Canadians believe other countries’ human rights records are more important than any potential economic benefits they may offer to Canada, a new poll suggests.
According to a poll done by Ipsos and shared exclusively with Global News, 39 per cent of Canadians believe the human rights record of a country matters more in deciding whether to pursue relations with that country than whether it can offer economic benefits to Canada, which 34 per cent said should be the top priority in driving international relations.
The results come as Canada grapples with an increasingly aggressive China and the prospect of whether to pursue free trade with the economic giant.
Thirty-five per cent also said that whether a country obeys international laws should be the most important factor.
Only 11 per cent said the question of whether a country is a democracy should be a determining factor, while 13 per cent said the same for historical relations.
However, the poll suggests 38 per cent of Canadians believe domestic political leaders prioritize economic benefits to Canada above all other factors.
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Just 28 per cent said they believe political leaders in Canada make human rights a top priority in deciding which countries to pursue relations with.
Of the four countries that had a plurality of respondents indicate human rights records should be the most important factor driving international relations, a smaller number of Canadians said so than did respondents in Great Britain, where 41 per cent said the same, or Hungary (46 per cent) and Sweden, where half of all respondents placed human rights above all other factors.
Still, when asked if Canada should only trade with countries that have good human rights records, the number of Canadian respondents who said yes increased to 42 per cent, putting Canada above the global average of 36 per cent who said the same.
Only 17 per cent of Canadian respondents said Canada should trade with any country, regardless of their human rights record.
“If I’m the prime minister looking at this data, I’m a little perplexed,” said Sean Simpson, vice-president of Ipsos Public Affairs. “We know that domestically within Canada, the economy is a top issue and job growth and creation, economic creation is always a top priority for Canadians. But when we asked Canadians to look towards foreign relations, the economy does not come first.”
He continued, noting that: “How to reconcile those two, in some cases competing, priorities is no doubt challenging for the government, particularly when we look at our dealings with China right now.”
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government have faced domestic backlash throughout his term in office for not speaking out strongly enough to criticize human rights violations by China, including most recently on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
The official statement from Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland on that anniversary prompted an accusation from former Canadian envoy to China, David Mulroney, that the government was trying to “play it safe” with China.
Trudeau himself said he had “real concerns” about human rights in China but stopped short of the kind of language used by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the European Union’s Federica Mogherini, which directly praised the democratic protesters killed by Chinese authorities in 1989, called for a full accounting of all those killed, and demanded the Chinese government officially acknowledge the massacre.
That came months into a diplomatic feud with China, which has detained two Canadian citizens on widely condemned accusations of endangering national security. Chinese officials have linked those arrests with the detention of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou by Canadian authorities in December 2018.
She was detained during a stopover in Vancouver at the behest of American authorities, who charged both her and Huawei in January 2019 with 23 counts of skirting U.S. sanctions on Iran and corporate espionage.
China has repeatedly demanded the government intervene to release Meng.
Trudeau and Freeland have refused to interfere in the court processes, citing Canada’s longstanding extradition treaty with the U.S.
That deal regularly sees Canada transfer upwards of 90 per cent of requested individuals to the U.S., according to federal officials.
Trudeau said last month he views the actions by China as “aggression” that Canada and other Western countries do not have to allow, accusing China of jockeying to try to “get its own way on the world stage.”
The Ipsos poll touched on some of those sentiments, asking respondents which countries they believed used their influence for good.
China came in at just 14 per cent while Canada scored higher than even the United Nations, topping the list at 37 per cent compared to the latter’s 35 per cent.
Two other polls earlier this year suggest Canadian public opinion has hardened against China in recent months.
In May, a poll by Nanos found only 23 per cent of Canadian respondents had a positive opinion of the country’s relations with China, with 56 per cent saying they held a negative view. Those responses ranged from 63 per cent in British Columbia to 42 per cent in Quebec.
Another survey that same month by the Innovative Research Group and the Canada Committee 100 Society found that a majority of B.C. Chinese Canadians support the Canadian government not intervening in the Meng extradition case.
The Ipsos survey sampled 17,022 adults internationally, with those from the U.S., South Africa, Turkey and Canada aged 18 to 74 and those in all other countries aged between 16 and 74. It was conducted between April 19 and May 3, 2019, via the Ipsos Online Panel and a sample of roughly 1,000 individuals per country. Argentina, Belgium, Chile, Hungary, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden and Turkey had samples of roughly 500.
Ipsos online polls are calculated using a credibility interval with a poll of 1,000 respondents accurate to within 3.5 percentage points and those of 500 respondents accurate to within 4.5 percentage points. For more information on the Ipsos use of credibility intervals, please visit the Ipsos website.