When I was high commissioner in London, I took anyone I could to Green Park to visit the Canadian Memorial there (incited by Conrad Black, by the way) to the “more than a million” Canadian servicemen and women who passed through the British Isles on their way to join up with allies to help defend Britain in the two world wars of the last century.
It’s an extraordinary number for a country whose population numbered about 8 million in 1914 and about 11 million in 1939. I was making a point of pride in our country’s solidarity with Britain, evoking a bond that I believed in the end would be timeless.
Fast forward to July 28, 2021. As our countries grope for an end to what may be the worst crisis since the Second World War, the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.K. government, supported by the devolved government of Scotland, announced it will now open its “transatlantic routes” by removing quarantine restrictions for fully vaccinated travelers from the U.S. And from the EU. But not from Canada.
The Scottish Transport Secretary credited the changes to the “success of vaccination programs in Scotland, the EU and the U.S.” Of course, the Canadian vaccination program is more successful than any of them. Fully two-thirds of Canadians have received two shots, compared to only half of Americans. Four Canadians in five have received at least their first shot.
There has been no explanation why Canada was not included in the new quarantine exceptions, made “to help family members visit each other and to help businesses benefit from increased trade.”
As a Canadian with Canadian grandchildren in England we have not seen for two years, I avidly applaud this concern for families that I am saddened does not extend to Canadian-British families, thereby trashing my belief in a “timeless bond” between the two countries. I thought the British had grown out of their old habit of taking Canada for granted, especially as their own society unravelled in recent years. But apparently not: the Brexit Tories are anyway hell-bent on kissing the hind quarters of the U.S. in every way imaginable.
I am especially disappointed in the Canadian government’s apparent lack of interest in our country being degraded in this way. When asked for the government’s response to the weasel words from U.K. authorities in London and Ottawa, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, complacently said: “I have a great deal of respect for every country’s sovereign right to decide during COVID who can come into the country and on what terms.” British terms, absent reciprocity.
At least she didn’t add this time that we “do everything by the science.” That was the rationale for our government’s earlier astonishing decision to extend unilaterally unreciprocated rights for vaccinated Americans to visit Canada as of Aug. 9, despite the fact that the Delta variant is ravaging the U.S. with new contagion, with up to 60,000 new cases per day in the last week.
The U.S. did not reciprocate for Canadians, and also described its contrary decision to be “following the science.” This evokes satirical references by political dissidents in China to the state’s belief in the notion of “science with Chinese characteristics.” We are now engaging science with apparently opposing Canadian and American characteristics, the differentiating feature being simply different assessments of respective domestic political advantage.
Perhaps that is what Freeland means by “sovereign right” — to do whatever it takes to get re-elected. It is what has made Canada the biggest vaccine hoarder by population in the world.
Vaccine nationalism and its exponentially increasing global health costs is possibly the critical international governance failure that will define historical memory of this harsh time.
It may also mark when our own Canadian government abdicated a meaningful creative foreign policy role, reverting to a defeatist default position of lining up behind the precarious Biden administration, which in turn is perpetuating America First impulses on pipelines, cars, lumber, whatever, with more to come.
As for the British decision, that we wouldn’t deplore it, and just give them hell, is beyond me.
Policy Magazine contributing foreign affairs writer Jeremy Kinsman is a former high commissioner to London, and former Canadian ambassador to Moscow, Italy, and the EU.
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