August 18, 2017

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Standing up to the 'moron' in the White House

CODIE MCLACHLAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES</p><p>Former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis: ‘I don’t think any country should attempt to assuage the egotism of Donald Trump.’</p>

CODIE MCLACHLAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis: ‘I don’t think any country should attempt to assuage the egotism of Donald Trump.’

As yet another xenophobic executive order from U.S. President Donald Trump threatens to increase the flow of asylum seekers into Canada, I find myself wondering what my father would advise.

What would a social scientist who had lived through the Second World War, resided on several continents and revered former prime minister Pierre Trudeau think the current prime minister should do now?

Dad is no longer alive to help me decipher what a responsible Canadian response to Trump might look like. However, the dad of the Canadian left, Stephen Lewis, is still available for guidance.

The 79-year-old human rights advocate — focusing on people with AIDS — and former politician and diplomat was anything but diplomatic about Trump when he spoke at the University of Manitoba last week.

"We have a moron in the White House... who understands almost nothing about the way the world works," Canada’s former ambassador to the United Nations told about 200 students, professors and others at an annual lecture hosted by St. John’s College.

"I don’t think any country should attempt to assuage the egotism of Donald Trump by playing nice," even if standing up to him causes Canada heartache in trade negotiations, Lewis said.

"What this world needs is a voice of principle to say to the president of the United States, ‘You’re wrong. We have, as a country, a series of values and principles which we have cherished and adhered to for 150 years and we’re not prepared to have them subdued by executive orders which issue from the United States of America.’ "

If Canada doesn’t speak out, "we’re going to regret it deeply down the road," Lewis warned. "Obviously, Justin Trudeau... thinks otherwise."

Lewis listed the ever-expanding ways he believes human rights around the globe are at stake and why Canada should not just ride out the Trump administration:

• Trump’s prior attempt to ban immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries and refugees has already affected Canada, with frightened people risking their lives to find a way across the border from the U.S.

• Women’s reproductive rights around the world are under siege under a "global gag rule" that cuts U.S. government funding for foreign organizations that even discuss abortion. Canada and other countries have stepped up to help fill the funding gap but that could redirect money from other international priorities.

• Stripping funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency affects the rights of the planet, Lewis argues. Climate change-induced famine involves a profound erosion of human rights.

• A proposed massive increase in military spending combined with a mentally unstable president have brought the Doomsday Clock (nuclear catastrophe) closer to midnight than at any time since the 1950s, Lewis said.

• Cuts to foreign aid will likely cause dangerous setbacks in controlling tuberculosis and HIV, and in boosting childhood immunization rates. Lewis called the high prevalence of HIV in some smaller African countries the result of "indifference verging on crimes against humanity."

• Hate crimes appear to be on the rise in the wake of Trump’s racist rhetoric.

• Lewis worries about who will protect lives in South Sudan or Myanmar or half a dozen other world hot spots if the U.S. cuts United Nations funding for peacekeeping and other programs. The day before his talk, new UN Secretary General António Guterres pointedly warned that "we are increasingly seeing the perverse phenomenon of populism and extremism feeding off each other in a frenzy of growing racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred and other forms of intolerance."

Lewis warned that Canada is not immune to dangerous politics, suggesting the federal Conservative leadership race includes those who believe Canada has "too much freedom and democracy."

The former NDP politician sounded like a prophet whose warnings will be remembered when the next generation of social scientists is analyzing the Trump era.

I had the same eerie feeling when Iranian-Canadian activist Marina Nemat (now avoiding travel to the U.S.) sat in my home 12 days after Trump was elected and warned about what she saw coming.

Neither Lewis nor Nemat is immobilized by fear and that’s not the effect they have on others.

Lewis recommended last week that audience members write their politicians and join established organizations working for human rights or defending science.

"I think we’ll see human rights more and more entrenched as the benchmark against which everything is measured," the humble, good-natured and grandfatherly prophet predicted.

Helen Fallding is a former Winnipeg journalist who works in the human rights field. She grew up in Canada after her family was rejected for immigration to the U.S.

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