the next boat home

If Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made one commendable decision since taking office last month it is this: when Brigitte Bardot came to…

If Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made one commendable decision since taking office last month it is this: when Brigitte Bardot came to town, he ignored her.

Last week the French actress appeared in Ottawa to protest the Newfoundland seal hunt, and Harper, to his credit, refused even to speak to her on the phone, let alone give her the face-to-face meeting she seemed to expect.

The decision to leave Bardot on ice is praiseworthy for a number of reasons.

Stardom should never guarantee access to political leaders, and a faded stardom is all she has to offer. Democracy is no respecter of fame, and for a social conservative prime minister such as Harper to grant an audience to an individual whose claim to fame is that she once looked good with no clothes on would be questionable at best.

As a foreign national, Bardot has every right to object to Canadian government decisions and to protest them in the customary ways — letters to the editor for instance, or participation in street demonstrations — but when it comes to a private audience with the prime minister of Canada, there are about 30 million in the lineup ahead of her.

But the most important reason to snub Bardot is that she’s a convicted and unrepentant hate monger.

Four times since 1997 she’s been sentenced in French court for hate crimes. Most recently, in 2004, she paid a $6,000 fine for inciting racial hatred with her book, A Scream in Silence.

According to the court, the book “presents Muslims as barbaric and cruel invaders, responsible for terrorist acts and eager to dominate the French to the extent of wanting to exterminate them.”

She also condemns the presence of women in government, dismisses gays as “fairground freaks,” deplores racially mixed marriage, denounces “the scandal of unemployment benefits,” and once lamented that France was being overrun by “sheep-slaughtering Muslims.”

Bardot’s credibility is less than zero, which is a good thing for Canada, and for Harper.

Our national reputation doesn’t need any extra tarnishing right at the moment, and the prime minister desperately needed good news stories about his strong defense of the seal hunt during a week when all the news from Afghanistan has been bad.

Hard on the heels of the shooting of an innocent civilian came the story of Abdul Raman, sentenced to death on charges that he had converted to Christianity.

Phone calls from Harper and US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice may have convinced President Hamid Karzai that such a move would be bad PR, but there’s still very little hope of the situation ending in good press for the military backers of the Afghan regime.

It looks as though Karzai will try to influence the supreme court to commute Raman’s sentence to life imprisonment in whatever passes for a mental institution in Afghanistan.

The ploy may not work, with prominent clerics baying for blood, but if it does succeed, expect Harper, Rice, and the rest of Karzai’s backers to accept it in lieu of justice.

This will allow them to sweep the greater issue — that of delivering military support to a regime that operates on a brutal interpretation of Sharia law — back under the rug.

But even if Raman escapes the death penalty, Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan could do more damage to our national reputation than a thousand beauty queens cuddling a thousand baby seals, unless Harper does something soon about the way our troops handle prisoners.

Since we joined the US war against the Taliban, Canadian forces have been handing prisoners over to the American military, notorious for its illegal detentions, secret prisons, torture, “extraordinary renditions,” and deaths in custody.

It might seem hard to trump this practice for downright evil, but war will find a way. Now we’re handing prisoners over to Afghanistan.

This month, the US state department assessed Afghanistan’s treatment of prisoners.

Here is an excerpt from that assessment. “There continued to be instances in which security and factional forces committed extrajudicial killings and torture. Torture and abuse consisted of pulling out fingernails and toenails, burning with hot oil, sexual humiliation and sodomy.”

Canadian chief of staff General Rick Hillier, who signed the deal to transfer the prisoners, and who has already dismissed his enemies as “scumbags,” didn’t even insist, as Holland did under the same circumstances, on Canada’s ability to track prisoners after they’ve handed them over.

Life under the Taliban was brutal for most Afghans.

The Taliban were also bad for business.

They killed the Unocal pipeline project, and they killed the heroin trade.

Life is still brutal for most Afghans, but business is much better. The pipeline deal is back on and poppies bloom all over the country.

Mansions, malls, and a five-star hotel sprout up around Kabul while most of Afghanistan remains in the hands of Canada’s allies, the warlords.

Infant mortality remains among the highest in the world, and women are bought and sold like cattle. This is the regime on whose behalf Canadian forces are engaged.

It’s always wise to be choosy about one’s associates, as Harper was in Bardot’s case.

If he were to exercise that same wisdom with regard to Afghanistan, Canadian soldiers would be on the next boat home.