Never say Never
Commentary by Lenko Grigorov

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It wasn't long ago that American travellers were sewing the Canadian flag to their luggage. In foreign countries, Canadians were perceived positively, while there was a level of animosity toward US citizens.

After being away for seven years, I'm travelling to South America again and the perception of Canada has definitively changed. The international policies of Canada during the last few years have managed to accomplish what I call the "Bush trick". In essence, this trick consists of starting with positive perception of one's country internationally and, within a few years, changing that perception to one of suspicion and negativity.

Here in Brazil, people are sensitive about the recent revelations that Canadian agencies have spied on their government and industries. Argentina and Chile recently introduced regulations that require Canadian visitors to pay a "reciprocity fee" to enter the countries. The official explanation is that citizens of these countries are required to pay a fee to visit Canada, so this is just a reciprocal measure. However, it is also a symbolic gesture. The only other countries which are affected by this measure are the US and Australia. Even the UK, with whom Argentina is in a bitter feud over the Falkland/Malvinas islands, has avoided such a measure.

What exactly am I advertising by having my country's red maple leaf on my backpack? The current international policies of the government of Canada are something I profoundly disagree with. I resent hawkish and self-serving behavior when I see it in others, so why should I support it for Canada? Our foreign aid has received a business make-over. Now we are interested in helping others only if there is something in it for us. Our policy in the Middle East has changed from a more balanced approach to an all-out support for Israel. Our "Northern strategy" consists of bullish statements about dominance in the North and impulsive claims to the North Pole, rather than consisting of cooperation with the other stake-holders in the region. Our immigration laws became more restrictive for refugee claims, and include provisions where court appeals may not be available for all applicants. Our intelligence agencies are cooperating tightly with their counterparts in the US and are providing support for objectionable, if not illegal, spying operations against allies.

The times are tough and every country is tempted to focus exclusively on its own interests. However, as the saying goes, it is very hard to gain someone's trust but it is very easy to lose it. It is mostly through our foreign policies that the international community can view Canada. If we have a strong belief in the basic human rights, we should apply them universally; they must not be kept as the privilege of Canadians, or be reinterpreted to suit Canada's interests. Fairness, engagement, cooperation - these should be the guiding principles of our foreign policy.

The American travellers have already stopped sewing the Canadian flag on their luggage. Should Canadian travellers follow suit?

— Sao Paulo, Feb 2014

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