Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
By way of introduction, I have with me Patricia Fortier, who is with our consular operations bureau, and Neil Reeder, who is the director general in our Americas bureau. I am the director general of our stabilization and reconstruction task force, and Leslie will introduce the CIDA colleagues.
I am very glad to be here today to discuss the measures taken by the Government of Canada following the earthquake that shook Haiti on January 11, 2010, as well as to discuss our response strategy in natural disaster cases in this region more broadly.
When natural disasters occur abroad, the Government of Canada tries to respond by using a set of proven and effective mechanisms and procedures intended to make our action coordinated and coherent. These mechanisms involve three main elements: first, standardization of operational procedures for managing interministerial coordination; second, release of information and decision-making; third, outlining of intervention possibilities available to the government. This also includes a standing interministerial task force, 24/7 monitoring measures, and exercises on lessons learned in order to continue steadily improving our capacity to respond to disasters.
Our procedures are tested regularly, and we ensure that staff is trained government wide, so that everyone's roles and responsibilities are known and there is no need to become familiar with them when a disaster occurs.
In essence, our bottom line is this: we've developed over the last decade a set of standard operating procedures across the Government of Canada that have served us extraordinarily well. I sometimes joke among my colleagues that it's not a Magic 8 Ball that you shake and then look at the standard operating procedures and it tells you the answer to the crisis. It doesn't necessarily tell us that, but what it has helped us to do, time and again, is to lay out a framework within which the Government of Canada can respond, so that colleagues across government know what's expected of them, so that our roles and responsibilities are clear, and so that we're not exchanging business cards after a crisis strikes.
How does this work in practice? To put it into context, every year Canada monitors hundreds of natural disasters abroad. Foreign Affairs has procedures and templates in place to consult with our missions on the impact of these disasters on the affected country, the majority of which don't require a whole-of-government response.
In this respect, it's generally through our colleagues at CIDA that we would respond to dozens of small and medium-sized disasters that don't garner widespread international attention. But in the case of significant natural disasters abroad, my organization, the stabilization and reconstruction task force within Foreign Affairs, is responsible for convening the standing interdepartmental task force on natural disasters abroad.
This task force is made up of core federal departments typically involved in a Government of Canada response, the core being Foreign Affairs, CIDA, DND, the Privy Council Office, and a few others, depending upon the circumstances. This task force can expand to include as many as 16 departments and agencies, depending upon the nature of the crisis. For Haiti we had 14 departments and agencies implicated. For Japan we currently have 16 departments and agencies implicated, because of the complexity of the crisis. The task force is essential for assessing the information coming in and helping to develop recommendations on how the Government of Canada can best respond.
There are essentially three conditions that activate a Government of Canada response to a natural disaster abroad. First is a request for assistance from the government of the affected country. Second is needs assessments from trusted humanitarian partners on the ground. The third is appeals by experienced humanitarian partners. There are a number of other elements that are also considered by the task force. These can include the magnitude of the disaster, the number of people that have been displaced, the number of people with urgent needs, and the existing capacity of the affected country. This is incredibly important. If you have a government that has an excellent preparedness system in place, you won't need to draw on as much international support as you will if you are dealing with a country that's already vulnerable and doesn't have strong coordination capabilities.
If the size and impact of a natural disaster is significant, then with the agreement of the government of the affected country, the Minister of Foreign Affairs can request the deployment of something called the interdepartmental strategic support team, the ISST, which will go out to the affected area. This team is led by DFAIT but it includes colleagues from CIDA and the Canadian Forces. Sometimes it can include the Public Health Agency, as was the case after the Indian Ocean tsunami. This ISST provides expert analysis on the situation and helps to outline options in support of international relief efforts.
With regard to the kinds of options the Government of Canada has at its disposal, we have over the last decade developed a robust tool kit that enables us to undertake timely and effective international responses. My colleague Leslie Norton from CIDA is going to elaborate on some of those tools in a few minutes, but to give you a feel for them, I can tell you that we can draw on financial support. We can provide this support to experienced humanitarian partners—the UN, the Red Cross, NGOs. We can fund and deploy Canadian civilian technical experts, and we can deploy emergency relief stocks.
If the disaster is too great for civilian international or local organizations to manage, then a scalable and modularized response package from the Canadian Forces can also be drawn upon by the task force. This can include a strategic airlift, naval assets, and engineering capabilities. In the event of a catastrophe such as the one we saw in Haiti, we can also draw on the medical and water supply capabilities of the disaster assistance response team, DART. The DART's deployment would be contingent on the ISST identifying it as a need and on discussions with humanitarian partners on the ground and the affected government.
I understand that my colleagues from the Canadian Forces have been invited to appear, so they will discuss this with you in greater depth. If there are any specific questions with regard to Haiti, Leslie and I would certainly be happy to respond to them.
The Government of Canada also has a couple of other tools at our disposal. On an ad hoc basis, depending on the nature of the crisis, we might draw on special immigration measures. We might pursue debt relief. As a tool for public engagement, a matching funds program has been used in the past when eligible dollars donated by individual Canadians to registered Canadian charities are matched dollar for dollar by the Government of Canada. This is not something that is pulled out of the tool kit on a regular basis. It has been for exceptional circumstances in which an extraordinary response from the Canadian public is believed to be warranted. Beyond Haiti, it was most recently used in response to the floods in Pakistan.
So this whole-of-government approach that I'm outlining—the standard operating procedures, the templates, the training, the task forces—has really been recognized as an international best practice. In fact, the latest OECD DAC peer review of Canada specifically cited this approach as something that other donors should look at as a model for whole-of-government engagement. It has proven to be an effective framework for action in successive earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons, and the cyclone season. It is something we get a lot of questions about from our other partners around the world, and it's an approach that served us well when the January 2010 earthquake struck.
The earthquake was the strongest earthquake to hit Haiti in more than 200 years. As you know, it resulted in more than 220,000 people confirmed dead and an additional 300,000 people injured. We estimate that about three million people were affected and require ongoing international support. Approximately 800,000 people are still living in camps for internally displaced persons.
In the hours immediately following this catastrophic event, the Government of Canada mounted a rapid and comprehensive humanitarian and consular effort. Although it was coordinated through DFAIT, as I said, the Government of Canada's task force on natural disasters abroad involved a wide range of government departments and agencies, and our objective was simple. It was twofold. First of all, we wanted to meet the needs of Canadians in distress, and then we wanted to make sure that we were supporting the United Nations and the Government of Haiti by being able to respond to the needs of Haitians who were trying to emerge from the crisis.
At the behest of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the interdepartmental strategic support team was dispatched immediately along with the DART recce team. They arrived within 20 hours of the earthquake. Team members undertook a rapid assessment of humanitarian needs, engaging the Government of Haiti, other donors, international organizations, and NGOs already on the ground. When they got there, It was clear to our team that the needs were going to be overwhelming and that a comprehensive, multi-faceted, whole-of-government response was going to be needed. The team's recommendation subsequently informed the contributions that Canada made to the international effort, and in this respect we deployed everything in the tool kit that I laid out for you. We dispatched everything possible that was available to us: our entire relief supply stocks, our expert advisers, Canadian Forces assets, the special immigration measures, and the debt relief. We facilitated the evacuation of some 4,620 Canadians. Ms. Fortier will be happy to follow up with you about that. We can talk about the other efforts in greater detail as well, and Leslie will speak to you about the humanitarian components.
One of the more visible elements of the response was the deployment of the 2,000 Canadian Forces personnel under Operation Hestia to support the Government of Canada's consular and humanitarian relief efforts. The use of Canadian Forces assets had been recommended by the ISST and was agreed to by the Government of Haiti. Their presence in Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, and Léogâne as part of this whole-of-government response made a significant difference.
Stabilization and humanitarian experts from CIDA and Foreign Affairs were deployed alongside the 2,000 forces members in order to engage with local authorities, the UN, and NGO actors. I would say this was an important lesson that we collectively learned as a result of our experiences in Afghanistan--the importance of physically co-locating political and development officers when Canadian Forces personnel are deployed, so that you can have a comprehensive and integrated approach right from the beginning of an operation. This effort of having the three together helped to clarify needs and gaps in the international response and enabled us to work effectively with local actors and with international organizations to make sure we had the right mechanisms in place, and also, right from the beginning, to make sure we transitioned out the Canadian Forces to other international partners.
Canada also played an important political role in support of the Government of Haiti, one that focused on recovery and reconstruction. My colleague Neil Reeder can speak in more detail to the political and diplomatic support that Canada offered throughout the crisis, including the challenges we faced at the time. He can speak to the leadership shown by Canada's decision to convene the Montreal conference in the first weeks after the crisis, which was really a key moment, not only in terms of demonstrating Canada's solidarity with the people of Haiti, but also in terms of how we wanted to ensure that there would be effective international coordination in cooperation with Government of Haiti officials.
In terms of managing the transition from the emergency rescue phase to the reconstruction and development phase, we had to face many challenges during the emergency rescue phase immediately following the earthquake.
The airport had sustained heavy damage, and flights from and to Port-au-Prince were very problematic.
Our on-site partners, such as the Haitian government, the UN and non-governmental organizations, all suffered heavy human and material losses.
In spite of this, the international community, among others, with the support of donors like Canada, succeeded in providing basic assistance that saved countless lives.
The earthquake resulted in a near collapse of the already-vulnerable security system in Haiti. Against this backdrop, the Department of Foreign Affairs refocused its multi-year strategy and its programs for Haiti in order to take into account the fact that a major part of the country's security infrastructure had been disrupted.
Most of our previously implemented investment projects sustained only slight damage, thanks to the minute attention paid to the construction standards.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has also invested an additional $10 million in the Global Peace and Security Fund, which already had $15 million set aside for reconstruction projects.
We quickly implemented initiatives to respond to the urgent need for stabilization. We did so by providing 100 patrol vehicles to the Haitian national police, so that it could meet its mandate. We also added classrooms to the police academy in Port-au-Prince, provided national police officers with first-aid training and launched local justice initiatives for the earthquake victims.
In addition, to support the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, we sent an additional 50 police officers to Haiti for a total of 150, as part of the Canadian Police Arrangement, and additional Correctional Service of Canada officers. The two deployments aimed to meet the needs set out by the United Nations Security Council.
My colleague Isabelle Bérard could talk to you about the timely investments made by CIDA for the strengthening of development efforts.
In conclusion, Mr. Chair, more than a year after the earthquake, international assistance is still required, both in the short term, to meet ongoing humanitarian needs--including those that emerged months later as a result of the cholera outbreak--and over the long term, to help the country rebuild not only its infrastructure but also its institutions and systems.
This is something that often gets lost: people forget the catastrophic circumstances that ensued. It would be as if a massive earthquake had struck a place such as Ottawa, all the ministries had collapsed, and Parliament Hill had been significantly damaged. The expectations that are then placed on a country and a government to be able to quickly turn it around and contribute towards reconstruction...it's quite a significant challenge.
In this respect, the Government of Canada has been clear and steadfast in its commitment to help meet humanitarian and reconstruction needs. Despite the political and development challenges that the international community is facing today in Haiti, Canada continues to move forward on the objectives we have set in partnership with the Government of Haiti and with other international entities. In this context, we continue to have at our disposal a robust and effective coordination and response capacity to address major natural disasters abroad, in the hemisphere and elsewhere.
I look forward to any questions you might have. Thank you.
I am accompanied today by my colleagues, Lise Filiatrault, CIDA's Regional Director General for the Americas and Isabelle Bérard, Director General of the Haiti Program.
Building on the presentation by my colleague, I will be highlighting the role of CIDA in response to natural disasters, with specific reference to our experience after the earthquake in Haiti, as well as to natural disasters in the region more broadly.
CIDA is the Government of Canada's lead agency for the provision of humanitarian assistance in developing countries. In this role, our efforts are focused on saving lives, alleviating suffering, and preserving the dignity of those affected by humanitarian crises. In 2010 alone, CIDA responded to 49 natural disasters, big and small, in the developing world.
As noted by Ms. Goldberg, in the aftermath of a natural disaster, the primary responsibility to respond rests with the government of the affected country. When a government lacks this capacity and requires international assistance, CIDA and other donors can consider support through a well-established and coordinated international response system.
CIDA's response is based on needs identified by expert humanitarian partners in a given context. These needs vary depending on, among other things, the scale and nature of the crisis and the pre-existing vulnerability of the affected population.
CIDA can draw on a number of targeted tools to support a Government of Canada response. Our selection among those tools depends in part on whether we are undertaking the sole response by the Government of Canada or are part of a broader, Whole-of-Government response.
CIDA's primary tool is the provision of financial support to experienced humanitarian partners that have proven capacities to deliver the needed assistance in a given crisis in a given part of the world. These partners include United Nations agencies, the Red Cross Movement, and Canadian and international non-governmental organizations. CIDA funding facilitates the quick work of these organizations to meet the urgent, life-saving needs of crisis-affected populations, including food, shelter, potable water, and health and medical assistance.
Over the years, CIDA has developed a range of additional tools to effectively prepare for, and respond to, rapid onset disasters. Among other things, it maintain a stockpile of relief items, such as blankets, tarps, hygiene and family kits, mosquito nets and water buckets, to meet the needs of up to 25,000 people. It supports the deployment of Canadian humanitarian experts to disaster settings, and it works with the Canadian Red Cross to establish a rapidly deployable field hospital based in Canada. Through this initiative, Canada is contributing to a faster, more effective emergency response system.
CIDA has also refined its programming tools to make our responses more timely. We created a draw-down facility with the Red Cross that facilitates the rapid start-up of relief operations for small natural disasters. This allows us to provide funds, generally within 24 hours of a request, to National Red Cross Societies, that is, local actors, from as little as $10,000 to $50,000 per emergency.
We also provide annual funding to flexible pooled fund mechanisms such as the United Nations Central Emergency Fund to enable our partners to rapidly conduct needs assessments and provide immediate support to disaster-affected communities.
Underpinning each of these mechanisms are the partnerships that we have with implementing agencies. We prioritize those who have demonstrated results in the past, have significant expertise, and work in accordance with established international principles, guidelines and codes of conduct. CIDA also coordinates our official response with the international community to ensure that there are no duplications or gaps in the global response effort and that the global response is proportionate vis-à-vis crises everywhere in the world.
Turning to Haiti, in response to the 2010 earthquake, the first CIDA staff were on a plane within 12 hours as part of the government's initial assessment team, as mentioned by Elissa--the ISST. As Elissa also mentioned, not only did the Government of Canada use all of its tool kits, but CIDA also used all of the elements of its response kit.
CIDA's humanitarian response to this earthquake was the largest in its history. Over $150 million in humanitarian assistance was provided within the first few months of the disaster through UN agencies, the Red Cross, and Canadian NGOs, to meet urgent and ongoing needs on the ground. This included emergency medical care, food, water, sanitation, shelter, and support for the logistics and coordination of the international response. Funding for protection services also addressed the heightened risk of abuse, exploitation, and sexual and gender-based violence for the most vulnerable and precarious camp environments.
In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, CIDA drew on its emergency stockpile of relief supplies to support the work of implementing partners and funded the deployment of 12 humanitarian experts to UN organizations and the Red Cross movement. CIDA complemented this assistance with the deployment of eight humanitarian staff to the field during the first five months of the response. These officers, including four CIDA staff who were embedded full time with the Canadian Forces during their deployment, played a key role by liaising with and advising Canadian Forces on humanitarian issues, supporting coordination efforts, engaging with international partners and monitoring programming, and informing future funding recommendations and decisions.
As the second-largest bilateral donor following the earthquake, Canada, through CIDA, has contributed significantly to the following achievements of the international response. A few examples are: 4.3 million Haitians received emergency food assistance; 1.7 million people were provided with safe drinking water; 300,000 families received emergency shelter materials; access to health and medical services was significantly improved; and children received protection and educational support.
In more recent months, CIDA has provided $7 million in additional humanitarian assistance to address the ongoing cholera epidemic that has resulted in over 4,500 deaths to date.
Canada's humanitarian assistance complements our long-term engagement in Haiti and has generated mutually reinforcing results. It is important to note that Canada has provided development assistance to Haiti for over four decades. Haiti is one of CIDA's countries of focus and the largest recipient of development assistance in the Americas.
CIDA's thematic priorities--namely, stimulating sustainable economic growth, securing the future of children and youth, and increasing food security--guide CIDA's work in Haiti. CIDA's longer-term development assistance program in Haiti is implemented in collaboration with trusted Canadian and international partners and is designed to meet the needs of the people, reinforce the Haitian government, foster stability, and improve security and access to basic services.
In addition to our immediate and considerable humanitarian response following the earthquake, Canada also demonstrated its commitment to Haiti in the medium and long terms by making a two-year, $400 million commitment to support the action plan for national recovery and development of Haiti and toward funding the priorities of the Haitian government. The action plan called for the creation of two coordination mechanisms: the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission and the Haiti Reconstruction Fund. Canada is a proactive and strategic member of both of these bodies.
The Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, or CCRIF, a regional risk pooling facility, is an essential part of CIDA's multi-year, $600 million commitment to the Caribbean. The CCRIF paid out nearly $8 million U.S. to Haiti immediately following the 2010 earthquake.
As I noted earlier, I am joined today by Lise Filiatrault and Isabelle Bérard, who can answer any questions you may have on CIDA's development program in the Caribbean and Haiti.
While the 2010 Haiti earthquake was a catastrophic event, there were also many smaller-scale disasters to hit the Caribbean region in the past years. Since 2007, we've provided over $12 million in response to natural disasters in the Caribbean. CIDA's response to humanitarian crises in the Caribbean region reflects our principled approach and demonstrates our efforts to improve the timeliness and effectiveness of our assistance.
In recent years, CIDA has provided relief to those affected by hurricanes and tropical storms in Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and throughout the lesser Antilles, including Barbados, St. Lucia, and Saint Vincent and Grenadines. CIDA has responded to flooding in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua, as well as the 2009 earthquake in Honduras.
CIDA has also made significant investments in reducing disaster risks and vulnerabilities in the Caribbean region. I'll give you a few examples.
For over 20 years, CIDA has been supporting the Pan American Health Organization, or PAHO, for its emergency preparedness and disaster relief program in the Americas. Canada is currently managing the Caribbean disaster risk management program to strengthen regional, national, and community-level capacity for the mitigation, management, and coordinated response to natural hazards. Canada has also contributed towards the capitalization of the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, established to reduce financial vulnerability of participating countries to catastrophic natural disasters by providing access to insurance. Since 2007, the CCRIF has made over $33 million worth of insurance payouts to eight Caribbean countries, including, as I mentioned earlier, the almost $8 million U.S. to Haiti.
These are all examples of our commitment to providing a timely, effective, and appropriate response to meet emergency needs and to reducing the vulnerability of people affected by natural disasters. They also highlight CIDA's consistent efforts to strengthen our disaster response tool kit to remain well placed and well prepared to respond to humanitarian needs in the Caribbean region in the years ahead. Although catastrophic-scale disasters, such as the 2010 Haiti earthquake, shine a temporary spotlight on CIDA's humanitarian assistance, we are constantly responding, behind the scenes, to the many less visible crises where humanitarian needs are no less urgent and assistance is equally life-saving. It is this variety of crisis situations, large and small, and across many different contexts, which drives us to constantly adapt and refine our tool box of response mechanisms.
I'll answer you on the amounts, but not on the transparency issue.
This is very much a question to consider. We had to discuss these questions with journalists and others who have many questions. We are trying to find the simplest way to provide the information.
It's true that there is a summary of financial data on our website. Everything we have done so far is on the site. In short, the site tries to explain two very specific things: funding, or the credits that we receive from the government to fund activities, and this commitment to match the donations collected by Canadian organizations.
As for the funding that can be found on the website, which anyone can consult—which you obviously did, Ms. Deschamps—we are talking first about this envelope of $555 million that was promised in 2006 for five years. The details about that can be found on the site. There are the details on the humanitarian assistance, as it was delivered, and my colleagues, Leslie and Elissa, spoke to you about that a little earlier. All of that is detailed as well. On March 31, 2010, we announced $400 million in additional funding for reconstruction, which basically extended Canada's involvement by one year—since our original involvement went to 2011, and we are committed until 2012—and to supplement the funding that had already been announced previously.
At the conference in New York, the minister finally announced that the funding provided by Canadians to Canadian organizations was $220 million. At that point, Minister Oda committed to matching those funds.
Now, when we talk about the amount of $555 million in humanitarian assistance and the amount of $400 million, we are touching on credits that they did not provide. As for the matching fund, we are not receiving funding for that. So it needs to be funded. It is funded through the humanitarian assistance and through the $400 million. It was during the meeting in New York that Ms. Oda said that at least $110 million, or half the funding, would be matched in the coming years.
So, we need to make a distinction between the $555 million, the humanitarian assistance and the $400 million. These are all sources of money, and this mechanism allows us to match the donations of Canadians.
If you visit the website, you will find a list of activities that have been funded with the $400 million. You have mentioned a few of them, and the list is now complete. It includes all the initiatives that have been committed, including $202 million out of the $400 million, and the matching fund, which comes out of the humanitarian assistance and the $400 million. Those initiatives are on the site, as well.
In short, it's as if the fund was funded through the humanitarian fund and the reconstruction fund. We are identifying initiatives within this matching fund. The initiatives as such are also there. So there is a juxtaposition between the initiatives funded from the $400 million and those that are part of the $110 million.
Happily. The idea of the ISST actually goes back several years, as part of the standard operating procedures that I was talking about before. Those have been a work in progress for over 15 years.
I'm sure that Mr. Goldring will recall that we didn't have them once upon a time. It was as a result of our lessons from Hurricane Mitch that the government decided it needed to have standard operating procedures. Enough of this making it up every time something happens: you needed to have things in place so that people knew what was expected of them, what every department was supposed to do. Making sure, for instance, that we train together beforehand, that we do tabletop exercises, that we do reviews after major crises so we can learn the lessons.
The ISST has evolved over time. As we've been deploying not just the DART but other Canadian assets into theatre, the decision was made that we needed to have a whole-of-government analysis that would go to catastrophic events.
The idea is that the team is led by Foreign Affairs, but it includes colleagues from the Department of National Defence—usually the commander of the DART, but not necessarily only the commander of the DART. There are a wider range of Canadian Forces' assets we might wish to draw on. Sometimes the DART might not be the right thing to take out of the tool kit. We might need to use engineers from the Canadian Forces or to draw on their airlift instead.
So it's DFAIT, National Defence, a colleague from CIDA, usually from Leslie's shop, the humanitarian assistance shop, and sometimes from the bilateral.... It depends on the nature of the circumstances at play. As I mentioned, depending on the kind of crisis we're looking at, we'll sometimes include other colleagues from the Government of Canada. For instance, after the tsunami, we brought along a colleague from the Public Health Agency, PHAC; we thought that was going to be a particular requirement given the number of dead and injured.
This ISST is pre-identified. All the colleagues know who is going to be on it. It's usually led either by me or by my director of humanitarian affairs and disaster response. That team trains together beforehand. There's an exercise that happens every year. We try to make sure we have a lot of staff interaction and contact with one another. We have our checklists and our preparation sheets. It's based on international best practice.
When the team is deployed, the idea is not to have Canada duplicating.... This is one of the other risks you run into when you have an ISST. We're careful about when we dispatch it. As Leslie said, Canada already invests millions of dollars into an international multilateral system. All of our UN partners, the International Red Cross and others, also have assessment teams.
When the Government of Canada decides to send in the ISST, it's because we anticipate it's going to be a circumstance where civilian organizations might need an additional set of supports from bilateral partners such as Canada. When that team goes in, we make sure its job is to liaise with the affected government, figure out what they want, and plug into all of the other assessment teams that have been deployed. We're not creating an additional burden, but we're getting a feel for what's required in that particular circumstance and what the Government of Canada can bring to the table.
Mr. Chairman, again, it's a pleasure to be here with my colleague, Jean-Benoit Leblanc, who is director for regional trade policy in Foreign Affairs.
I am going to make some comments in English and some in French, and I will be pleased to answer your questions in the official language of your choice.
As you know, on June 28, 2009, the democratically elected president of Honduras, José Manuel Zelaya, was forcibly removed from power. Although political tensions in Honduras had been mounting in the months leading up to this event, few anticipated such a dramatic outcome.
At that particular time, I was Canada's ambassador to Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and I happened to be in Tegucigalpa on that day as Canada was about to take over the presidency of the G-16 group of donors in Honduras, Honduras being one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere.
The international community, including Canada, quickly condemned the coup d'état and called for President Zelaya's immediate reinstatement. Our then Minister of State for the Americas, Peter Kent, issued a strong statement condemning the coup and calling on all parties to show restraint and to seek a peaceful resolution to the situation that respected democratic norms and the rule of law, including the Honduran constitution. Several days later, on July 4, a special session of the Organization of American States took place in Washington, attended by Minister Kent, at which the OAS members, including Canada, unanimously moved to suspend Honduras from the organization. Canada was to play an active role in the debate at the OAS, carving out an important role for our country in the coming months.
I thought it was also important to come today, Mr. Chairman, after having heard the comments from the Honduran non-governmental organizations and the Canadian non-governmental organizations, to provide a bit more perspective on Canada's role.
During the political impasse, the international community, including Canada, worked diligently to resolve the crisis and help Honduras get back to democratic and constitutional normality. To that end, two high-level OAS missions were sent to Tegucigalpa in August and October 2009, and Canada took part in them.
Canada lobbied in favour of a negotiated solution to the political crisis in respecting the rights of Hondurans and asked for peace, order and good governance.
Canada also joined the international community in initiating sanctions against the de facto government, which took over power after President Zelaya left the country, including by pausing our military cooperation with Honduras and pausing government-to-government official development assistance.
Despite this concerted effort by Canada and other key players, the extreme intransigence of the de facto government, and I believe the actions and rhetoric of President Zelaya, prevented a compromise solution from being reached.
On November 29, 2009, five months after the crisis began, Honduras held regularly scheduled general elections. Despite less than ideal conditions, the elections took place in a relatively peaceful and orderly manner and were generally considered free and fair by the international community. Porfirio Lobo, of the opposition National Party, emerged the clear winner in the elections. In those elections, about 50% of eligible voters took part. The election totals, in terms of the numbers of votes received by President Lobo, were the highest for any election in Honduras' history since the 1980s when the country returned to democratic rule.
Since his inauguration on January 20, 2010, President Lobo has taken a number of important steps towards re-establishing democratic order and achieving national reconciliation. This includes the formation of a multi-party unity government that includes presidential candidates from the opposition parties. It also includes the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission, which will determine what led to the coup and what human rights abuses took place during the political crisis.
Canada continues to have concerns regarding the human rights situation in Honduras and over the level of impunity. Although tensions have subsided somewhat under the Lobo administration, as we heard a couple of weeks ago, human rights abuses have continued and formal complaints have actually increased. Our officials continue to receive reports of civil society organizations being harassed and of attacks on social leaders who are often identified with the opposition to the former de facto government.
Furthermore, at least seven journalists were murdered in 2010. Canada is very concerned over these cases, and we've said so publicly, not just for the human impact but also for the negative effect it has on freedom of the press and freedom of expression.
We maintain an open channel to express our concerns to the Government of Honduras, both publicly and privately, regarding the human rights situation in that country. We've undertaken formal statements of concern during the United Nations universal periodic review of human rights in Honduras. We're in regular consultation with the range of actors in Honduras on this situation, and we raise our concerns. Our new ambassador to Honduras has met with key Honduran officials, including last week with the new Minister of Justice and Human Rights, which is a new cabinet position created by President Lobo, as well as with the Attorney General of Honduras to discuss the human rights environment and Canada's views.
Finally, as a member of the G-16 group of donors, Canada works closely with other like-minded partners such as the European Union, the United Nations, and the United States to monitor and improve the human rights situation in Honduras.
After the inauguration of President Lobo in early 2010, Canada took the decision to normalize relations with Honduras. We believe that continued isolation only hurts the most vulnerable people in the country and that engagement rather than isolation is the best way to promote change in that country.
Canada also feels that the time has come to welcome Honduras back into the OAS in order to strengthen the Honduran democratic institutions, to promote a political dialogue, to deal with human rights violations and to help Honduras achieve its security and development program. The forcible removal of former President Zelaya created one of the worst political crises in Central America in several years. We were extremely disappointed that the coup could not be reversed, and that President Zelaya was not reinstated before the end of his term.
However, on many fronts, Canada's role in Honduras was a considerable success in very difficult and tense circumstances. There was a very real threat that the situation in Honduras could spiral out of control, leading to serious civil unrest, and a much greater death toll.
Neighbouring countries were also concerned that the conflict could destabilize the rest of the Central American sub-region. But the sustained efforts of the regional and international community and the constant call for calm by countries like Canada helped encourage peaceful demonstrations and ensure that both sides continued to dialogue rather than turning to more violent means.
It's noteworthy that today Hondurans from many walks of life comment very favourably on the Canadian role during the crisis. They have described Canada as having a balanced and positive position that sought to be constructive at all times. Canada worked very closely within the G-16 donor group as president of that group for the first six months of the de facto government to influence the process of reconciliation, to dialogue and engage with civil society and with the members of the congress in Honduras. I mention this because the donor group is very important. Honduras, being one of the poorest countries in the Americas, receives 18% of its national budget from official development assistance, and the total assistance is somewhere in the order of $600 million annually. After Haiti, which we just spoke about, Honduras is the second-poorest country in the Americas. So the donor role was very important, and Canada played an important role, including trying to advance the process of reconciliation between the de facto government and Zelaya's people, which was a process led primarily by the OAS but with support from Canada and other countries.
Canada's role did not go unnoticed by Hondurans, nor did it go unnoticed by our partners in the region, including the Lobo government. This is evidenced by the nomination of a Canadian, former diplomat Michael Kergin, who was our ambassador in Washington, among other important postings, as an international commissioner on the truth and reconciliation commission. This commission has been supported financially by Canada, and we see it as a very important step as it prepares to release its report on what transpired in the next several months. The commission has an important role to play in assisting Honduras to achieve national reconciliation and in allowing Hondurans to regain a sense of confidence in their country's institutions. We very much look forward to the commission's report, which is scheduled to be released this coming May.
Finally, if I could, Mr. Chairman, with our new , ongoing Canadian engagement will help ensure that Honduras returns to the inter-American community and moves closer towards national reconciliation. Through efforts in Honduras, we have advanced the government's Americas strategy. By enhancing our engagement in the Americas, we strengthen bilateral relations with our partners in the region, and with the OAS we've consolidated our reputation as a constructive multilateral player in the hemisphere.
Mr. Chair, I would be pleased to answer any questions the committee members may have. Mr. Leblanc is with me to answer any questions about trade.
And thank you for appearing before us. I want to keep on going. I want to talk about free trade agreements. They are being initiated in the western hemisphere. In Costa Rica, I think we've finished that. There is also Colombia, Chile, Peru, Mexico, and I think there are some others too.
These agreements benefit the middle class. Mr. Goldring and I went to an African country just a few months ago. We saw the spinoff, what happens when companies are allowed to move and are encouraged to sell their products and get an opportunity to move beyond their own boundaries. It grows, and it encourages people to involve themselves in the economy; it generates wealth and a spinoff in employment.
Small and medium-sized businesses obviously are the first and probably benefit the most from this. I know that on this side of the House...I think even our Liberal friends would agree for the most part that these are methods by which we can certainly grow GDP.
You mentioned Gildan. I don't want to correct you, but I don't think it's 15,000; it's 16,000 employees. Gildan is a Quebec company, and they weren't here to defend themselves, of course. Neither were the mining companies when we were told that Canada—and I was frankly just incensed when I heard the charge that Canada makes off with countries' natural resources without any concern for society. Again, we didn't have the opportunity.
We really need to set the record straight. I think one of the things we have to recognize, and I don't know how far we want to get into politics...but the very fact that the coup took place was because the country was drifting toward Hugo Chavez, that type of a regime, and the influence that he's exerting on a lot of southern.... Let's make no mistake about it. A real power struggle is taking place, and it's what we believe in as a free society; that's to have freedom of goods, what we call the unguided hand, as opposed to total government control or freedom versus totalitarianism, prosperity versus poverty. I feel very strongly about that.
I feel very strongly about free trade agreements. As I said, they don't necessarily influence me as an individual; they influence us as a nation, and they influence other nations. There's a real war going on I think throughout the globe. There's a disagreement as to what free trade does and where free trade leads.
I wonder if you could explain to us the process involved in constructing a free trade agreement and perhaps outline for us the free trade agreement with Honduras and how we go about that.