Julian Assange, refugee
The Le Monde writer, Serge Halimi, penned an excellent commentary last month on refugees and freedom of the press. He described the Western world’s indignation at President Trump’s cancellation of Jim Acosta’s (CNN) access to White House press briefings. Outrage flared everywhere over this denial of the most basic of good journalism – the right of a journalist to access important events.
When Acosta finally had his accreditation returned, the (Western) world cheered and patted itself on the back for defending a basic element of democracy. Media outlets were effusive in their relief that Freedom of the Press had been restored.
During that same time, Mr Halimi writes, journalist and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange completed his sixth year of protective custody, imprisoned (in fact) in Ecuador’s London embassy for the crime of journalism. If Assange leaves the embassy, the Brits have threatened to arrest him and turn him over to American authorities.
Without any trial, those American authorities have promised Mr Assange years in jail – or worse (the president has speculated on the utility of assassinating him). His crime: Wikileaks has published an invaluable trove of embarrassing data on governments and governors around the world. Wikileaks published financial information about the Very Wealthy hiding funds in tax havens, published letters with unflattering evaluations of foreign leaders – embarrassing stuff, every bit it. Yet isn’t this what investigative journalism is expected and tasked to do?
Where’s the CNN’s outrage? Has Canadian media published the slightest mention of Assange’s de facto jail term in the embassy? World leaders, including our own, so committed to personal freedoms, have refused to intervene or assist. Only the former Ecuadorian left-of-centre government, now replaced, gave him shelter. The great Liberals Obama and Trudeau joined despots like Putin and Assad in refusing to help – and why? Because Wikileaks also published material that was harmful to Ms Clinton’s presidential campaign, and so Wikileaks was blamed in part for her loss.
Is that how “freedom of the press” works in the Great Western Democracies?
And, as we enter an election year, wouldn’t this be the time for Mr Trudeau to live up to his self-coronation as a Great Liberal? Rather than back-pedal or, worse, move rightward to steal his opposition’s thunder, shouldn’t we expect Mr Trudeau to offer Assange refugee status here in Canada as a sign of our commitment to press freedom – and as a sign of independence from our great neighbour to the south?
Mr Trudeau has not objected to the Americans’ putting us in the middle of their battle with China, and has barely fought the punitive tariffs applied by those same good neighbours. He hardly objected to Trump’s personal insults – and has no problem with our foreign affairs branch timidly following the Americans as they try to strong-arm the world into compliance.
This is not what Canada means. Let’s see our leadership hopefuls show some backbone and principle. They could start by offering Mr Assange refugee status in Canada.