The change of government didn’t stop the steep decline of press freedom in Canada according to Reporters Without Borders. Canada now ranks 22nd in the RWB index, four spots below last year. The international press freedom watchdog urges Trudeau to act on his vocal defense of free media.

Every year, Reporters Without Borders publishes a report on the state of press freedom in 180 countries. They base their rankings on questionnaires submitted to media professionals, lawyers and sociologists in each country, and on the number of acts of violence and abuse towards medias and journalists.

In 2015, Canada was eighth on the list. One year later, thanks to the ever-increasing hostility of the Conservative government toward the media, it had plunged to the 18th spot.

Many expected Trudeau to change this bleak course when he took office, considering how he advocated for a strong and free press during the campaign. While the government’s relations with media may appear more cordial, the Prime Minister has so far failed to live up to that expectation. Canada has slipped down four more spots, now ranking right between Samoa and the Czech Republic.

The top of the index is once again filled by Scandinavian countries, with Norway in the lead. Costa Rica follows in 6th place. At the other end of the scale, North Korea surpassed Eritrea as the very worst place in terms of press freedom. Turkmenistan and Syria are close behind.

RWB says Canada’s poor score this year is partly due to the fact that a number of journalists have been put under police surveillance in Quebec, including La Presse’s Patrick Lagacé. The organization also cited a court ordering Vice journalist Ben Makuch to hand over all communications between himself and an RCMP source as it highlights Canada’s lack of specific legal framework for journalism.

RWB also highlighted the charges brought against The Independant’s journalist Justin Brake for trespassing while he was covering the protests against the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador. Plus the NGO expressed disappointment at the PM’s failure to repeal C-51, which is widely considered as a huge setback for press freedom and individual rights. RWB already tried to bring all these concerns to Trudeau’s attention in an open letter written in November.

Canada is not the only country with a less than stellar performance. The US went dropped from 41st to 43rd, a relatively small slip, considering Donald Trump severely restricted media access to all kinds of information and his outright calling the press “an enemy of the american people.” It might suggest that the Obama administration’s difficult relationship with the press and war on whistleblowers might have had more far-reaching effects than it seems.

In fact, RWB maintains that press freedom is in more danger than ever, all across the world.

“We have reached the age of post-truth, propaganda, and suppression of freedoms – especially in democracies,” The report declared in its cheerful introduction. It attributes the worsening state of affair to a conjuncture characterized by the rise of strongmen and the erosion of democracies in Europe and America alike. As for Canada, RWB recommends that the government repeals C-51 and put forward concrete measures to ensure confidentiality of journalistic sources.

* Featured image from Reporters Without Borders official site

Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia was a breach of its own military export policies. Thanks to a few tweaks in a document from the Department of Global Affairs, it’s not anymore.

The government recently released the 2014 and 2015 versions of the Report on Exports of Military Goods for Canada. On Monday, the Globe and Mail  revealed that they contain a few relevant edits, findings which were later confirmed by the Canadian Press and Le Devoir. It’s only three small changes in wording of a relatively obscure Global Affairs document, but they are indicative of the dangerous direction our arms trade policies are taking.

The section clarifying the goals of the control on exports of military equipment has been altered in two places.

Previous versions said that controls intended to ensure that military exports would not be “diverted to ends that could threaten the security of Canada, its allies or other countries or people.” Mentions of “other countries or people” have been edited out as it now only refers to “Canada, its allies or civilians.”

Yemen, for example, is another country, but not an ally. Therefore, the matter of Saudi Arabia using Canadian military equipment for shady operations in Yemen is officially none of Ottawa’s business.

The only sentence explicitly allowing Ottawa to restrict military exports has also been erased.  Hence, export controls are no longer meant to “regulate and impose certain restrictions” but to “balance the economic and commercial interests (with Canada’s) national interests.”

Furthermore, where it previously stipulated that “wide-ranging consultations are held” as a mandatory step, it now only mentions that they “may be included.”

The document still includes a general rationale for the control of military exports, in which the notions of ethics and concern for human rights remain untouched, but with no practical mandate tied to them. The power of regulating or restricting shipments of military goods to that effect has been edited out. In fact, there is no mention of restricting or regulating exports anywhere in the entire document.

The report still reads like a spirited commitment to ensuring that exports of Canadian arms do not threaten peace, security or human rights. This little rewriting just deprived it of any teeth.

Still, the authors did not dare to keep claiming that “Canada has some of the strongest export controls in the world;” which was the opening statement of previous versions. The sentence was substituted by the assertion that Canada’s export controls were “rigorous” and “in line with our allies.”

“For Clarity”

The liberals maintain that the edits were made only for “clarity, length and exactitude.”  The fact that all of them also serve to legitimize the massive sale of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia is probably just a happy coincidence.

Trudeau’s government authorized the $15 million deal in April, despite strong popular and political opposition.  Saudi Arabia’s lousy human rights record and its unsanctioned military intervention in Yemen should have disqualified it from the global arms trade. Both the International Arms Trade Agreement and the Directives of Exports of Military Goods of Canada – at the very least- implied as much.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion pleaded that the armoured vehicles were to be used to fight off ISIS and not against Saudi or Yemeni civilians. If the contrary was reliably demonstrated, Canada could rescind the deal, he promised.

Footage of Canadian equipment used in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is accused of breaching international law, apparently, was not considered substantial proof.  In June, Canadian-made tactical gear was used in a violent house raid in a neighbourhood mainly inhabited by Saudi Arabia’s oppressed Shia community. The debate over the arms deal had mostly died down by then and although it received moderate coverage, there was no political response.

If it wasn’t before, it is now clear that the Trudeau government never had any intention of backing off on its arms trade with Saudi Arabia. In fact, they seem committed to moving the country on its path to becoming one of the world’s biggest arms dealers.

Canada’s exports of military goods (outside the US) rose by 89% during the Harper years and the $15 million deal with Saudi Arabia further increased this number. Canada is now the most important arms exporter in the Middle East, after the United-States. The path might have been set by the Conservatives, but the Liberals are running down it at full speed.

* Featured image taken by Staff Sgt Christine Jones, Wiki Creative Commons