I would like to thank our chair and the committee for the opportunity to join you all here today. I have some prepared remarks, a few things I'd like to say off the top.
Before I begin, I would like to introduce two outstanding Canadian public servants who are here with me. I think everyone in Canada now knows Steve Verheul. I was about to say that he is our chief negotiator of CETA, which he is, but right now, significantly, he is our chief negotiator of NAFTA. Thank you for being here with us, Steve.
With me also is David Morrison, who has recently been named our associate deputy minister of Global Affairs. David has been doing terrific work on a number of files, but most particularly he's a Latin America expert and has been leading our effort on Venezuela.
Muchas gracias, David.
For the Albertans here, he's from Lethbridge.
Mr. Chair, honourable members, thank you for inviting me to speak to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development about how our government is delivering on its foreign policy priorities. Last June, in the House of Commons, I presented Canada's priorities in terms of foreign policy. The very essence of those priorities is the fact that they are founded on the importance of maintaining a stable and rule-based international order.
Our government is capitalizing on Canada's global presence, which is long-standing tradition, to speak with a strong voice in order to defend intolerance and nativism, while addressing the legitimate concerns of individuals who feel overwhelmed by globalization. This means that constructive leadership is needed in the established world order and with our partners to promote peace, security and prosperity around the world.
Mr. Chair, that is exactly what our government is doing.
At the United Nations, the G7, the G20, the OAS, the World Trade Organization, in the Commonwealth, la Francophonie, and NATO, to name just a few, Canada today is engaging creatively to navigate the complexities of today's world.
We are doing so, Mr. Chair, not only in word but also in deed. We have shown that Canada can lead and assemble partners to find solutions to the world's most pressing global challenges.
In October, in Toronto, I hosted the third ministerial meeting of the Lima Group on Venezuela. Foreign ministers from over a dozen countries convened to discuss steps needed for a peaceful return to democracy and to relieve the terrible suffering of the Venezuelan people. I repeated this message once again two weeks ago in Chile at the fourth Lima Group meeting, as well as the importance that Canada's sanctions against Venezuela have in our efforts to achieve these goals.
The issue of Venezuela was further extensively discussed at the North American foreign ministers meeting last Friday in Mexico City. We may be holding another meeting of the Lima Group in Lima next week. That's under discussion. Just a couple of hours ago I spoke with the Peruvian foreign minister about that possibility.
With the United States, Canada also recently hosted the Vancouver foreign ministers meeting on security and stability on the Korean peninsula. This was an essential opportunity for the international community to demonstrate unity against and opposition to North Korea's dangerous and illegal actions and to work together to strengthen diplomatic efforts towards a secure, prosperous, and denuclearized Korean peninsula.
Likewise, on Myanmar, I'm proud of Canada's leadership and cross-party support for that leadership. Too often in diplomacy, it is said that words do not matter, but they do. It is significant that Canada was one of the first countries to denounce the crimes against humanity and the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya.
Since the beginning of 2017, Canada has contributed $37.5 million to help address the needs of affected people in Myanmar and Bangladesh. This includes $12.5 million the government contributed to match the donations of generous and concerned Canadians. I would really like to thank and congratulate all the Canadians who took part in that. That is why we have appointed Bob Rae, a friend and an exemplary Canadian, as special envoy. As a non-Muslim-majority country, it's particularly important that Canada speak out in defence of this persecuted Muslim minority.
When it comes to Ukraine, I was delighted to travel to Kiev in December and to meet with President Poroshenko, Prime Minister Groysman, and Foreign Minister Klimkin.
I conveyed our unwavering support for Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty and spoke about our recent addition of Ukraine to the automatic firearms country control list, something that the Ukrainians thanked me for.
Last June I also said we would take strong steps to ensure that all human beings are treated with dignity and respect, based on our strong commitment to pluralism, human rights, and the rule of law. Since then, we adopted the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act—and thank you to everyone around this table for the support for that measure—to enable Canada to take action against individuals who commit serious violations of human rights and those who engage in significant acts of corruption anywhere in the world.
I want to thank all the members of this committee for your important work on this legislation. It truly would not have happened without this committee's leadership, a very important contribution.
We will continue to firmly denounce any kind of injustice and intolerance around the world, as we have done in places such as Yemen, Chechnya and Iran in recent months.
You also heard me talk about women and girls. As I said in June, it is important for a prime minister and a government to proudly self-identify as feminists.That actually marked an historic milestone.
Women's rights are human rights, and they are at the heart of our foreign policy. That is why we are determined to promote a feminist and ambitious foreign policy. That commitment is at the heart of Canada's feminist international aid policy, which was launched in June by my colleague Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, and at the heart of Canada's new national action plan dedicated to women, peace and security, which I announced last November.
I know that the contribution of several committee members here today was a great help in developing those policies. So I would like to thank them once again.
At the United Nations Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial conference held in November, in Vancouver, Canada launched the Elsie Initiative on women's participation in peace operations. The initiative's goal is not only to ensure that women can participate fully in peacekeeping operations around the world, but also to guarantee that good conditions are in place for their long-term participation. The Elsie Initiative is designed to improve the overall effectiveness of United Nations operations. We are hearing from experts from a number of countries this month to determine that the next steps will be.
Our reputation as a country with clear and cherished democratic values that stands for human rights is strong. We must continue to be a global leader and keep working hard to protect these values and rights.
On that point, I would like to directly address an issue that has received important scrutiny in Canada: arms exports. Last summer we became aware of media reports on the possible misuse of Canadian-made vehicles in security operations in Saudi Arabia's eastern province. At that time, I asked officials at Global Affairs Canada to conduct a full and thorough investigation of these reports. Today I can confirm that officials at Global Affairs found no conclusive evidence that Canadian-made vehicles were used in human rights violations. That was the independent, objective opinion of our public service and the advice given to me as minister.
That experience did, however, cause me to pause and re-examine Canada's export permit system. My conclusion is that Canada can and must do better. Canada is not alone in the world in taking stock of how we allow and monitor the export of arms and of the considerations that go into these decisions. I have spoken with my counterparts in Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands, among others, whose countries have all recently, in one way or another, questioned how arms are exported.
I am proud of the important commitment that our government made with Bill . This would amend the Export and Import Permits Act to allow Canada to accede to the Arms Trade Treaty. This is the first treaty to tackle the illicit trade in conventional weapons, and it sets an essential standard for the international community.
It is long overdue that Canada joins many of our NATO and G7 partners by acceding to the ATT. We have heard support for the arms trade treaty from civil society, NGOs, and Canadians. We also heard the clear desire to do better. We need to be ambitious and strengthen Bill . We had originally planned to place the criteria by which exports are judged, including human rights, into regulation, but we heard from committee members and civil society that they would like to see the Arms Trade Treaty criteria placed directly into legislation. This would include the consideration of peace and security, human rights, and gender-based violence. I can say today that the government would welcome this.
Going further than that, our government is today announcing its support for the inclusion of a substantial risk clause in Canadian law. Such a clause would mean that our government and future governments would not allow the export of a controlled good if there were a substantial risk that it could be used to commit human rights violations. A substantial risk clause would mean that Global Affairs Canada would need to ensure, before the export of controlled goods, that we have a high level of confidence that controlled exports will not be used to commit human rights abuses.
That is an important decision because it will have an impact on the way Canada regulates arms sales, but it's the right thing to do. Canadians are deeply committed to human rights for everyone, and they rightly expect exported goods not to be used to violate human rights.
I want things to be very clear. I want us to hold ourselves to a higher standard when it comes to Canada's controlled goods exports.
This is a significant decision. It will mean changes in how Canada regulates the selling of weapons. This is the right thing to do. Canadians fundamentally care about human rights for all, and Canadians rightly expect that exports will not be used to violate human rights.
Let me be clear: from this day forward I want us to hold ourselves to a higher standard on the export of controlled goods from Canada.
I would also like to provide further clarity on one point. As a matter of broad principle, Canada will honour pre-existing contracts to the greatest extent possible. We can all understand and appreciate the fundamental importance of being able to trust Canada. We also understand the inherent importance of providing stability and certainty. Canada is a trusted partner around the world, and people must continue to be sure of the high worth of our word and our commitments. The world needs to know that an agreement with Canada endures beyond elections. This is important not only for international partners but also for Canadian companies and Canadian workers, who need to know they will be able to follow through on plans into which they invest their time and resources.
These two amendments will also provide clarity to industry by laying out the government's and Canadians' expectations for our export control process. We will work with Canadian industry to continue to provide it with appropriate guidance.
Mr. Chair, let me now turn to trade for one moment.
When it comes to NAFTA, we continue to work hard on the bread-and-butter trade issues at the negotiating table. Our goal is greater competitiveness, investment certainty, and growth in North America.
At the most recent round of talks in Montreal, we put forward some creative ideas with the view to establishing a constructive dialogue on certain key issues, including the rules of origin, investment dispute settlement, and ongoing modernization of the agreement. Serious challenges do remain, particularly with regard to the United States' unconventional proposal. As the said yesterday in Chicago, our objective is a good deal, not just any deal.
At the negotiating table, Canada always takes a facts-based approach. We are always polite and we are adept at seeking creative solutions and win-win-win compromises, but we are also resolute. Canada will only accept an agreement if it is in our national interest and respects Canadian values.
Finally, Mr. Chair, let me conclude with a few words about one of Canada's signature priorities for this year, our G7 presidency. This is a great opportunity for us to speak with a strong voice on the international stage.
During its G7 presidency in 2018, Canada will mobilize its counterparts on global issues requiring immediate attention, including by investing in economic growth that benefits everyone, by preparing for the jobs of the future, by working together on climate, ocean and clean energy changes, and by building a more peaceful and safer world. More specifically, we will promote gender equality and women's empowerment, and we will ensure that a gender-based analysis is conducted for each aspect of our presidency.
Mr. Chair, I will conclude by saying that, within G7 and the international community as a whole, Canada is continuing to defend a rule-based national order and to look for ways to strengthen it. We do this at every opportunity, while explicitly taking into account the relationship between peace, common prosperity, open trade and human rights.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I commend the committee for undertaking this examination of the provisions of assistance by the government to Canadians. It is the first time, certainly in my memory that such an examination has taken place, and I think my memory is probably longer than most. A comprehensive examination of consular affairs is also a matter of added importance in light of the changes in the composition of Canadian society, which increasingly includes persons who were born outside of Canada; every few years, we get another indication of that from Statistics Canada. Equally, an increasing number of Canadians include foreign travel as an important element in their daily lives.
I've been retired long enough now that I don't know many members here, but certainly before retirement it was a rare day that I did not receive an inquiry from members or their staff about constituents who had run into trouble when they were outside of Canada. Most of the problems were easily resolved, fortunately, but there were always a small number of such matters that were deeply tragic in their outcomes or went on for months and years.
Many of these cases, if one were to list a group of names, would bring back memories to just about all of you. Some of the persons that have been in such difficulty are such persons as Alison Azer; Christine Lamont and David Spencer; Nguyen Thi Hiep, who died tragically, executed by the Government of Vietnam a number of years ago; Zahra Kazemi, a case that still lingers on in our court system; Bill Sampson; Maher Arar; Omar Khadr; Ahmad Abou El-Maati; Abdullah Almalki; Muayyed Nureddin; James Loney; Harmeet Sooden; Suaad Mohamud; Mellissa Fung; Mr. Abdelrazik; Amanda Lindhout; Robert Fowler; Louis Guay; John Ridsdel; Robert Hall; and, most recently, Joshua Boyle.
Beyond the individuals who linger on in our memories about these things, every year we see large events take place around the world that directly affect the Canadians who are in those countries. These have almost become annual events, I think, in our documentation. Of course, it's always important that we remember what happened in late June in 1985 when hundreds of Canadians were killed at the hands of other Canadians when Air India was bombed off of the coast of Ireland.
As you go about your work in this area, I would leave you with three factors firmly in mind, which I think will help guide your work.
The first of these is that there cannot be any expectation that the international environment will become more benign or peaceful in the coming years. Without being overly pessimistic, I think it's fair to say that it will become less so.
Second, and almost counterintuitive in all of this, there can be no expectation that Canadians will travel less as a result of this increasingly inhospitable international environment.
The third thing to keep in mind is that there are no initiatives under way—or interest in creating new ones—that will increase international co-operation on consular matters, and this despite the fact that nearly two billion people travel internationally each year and the travel industry internationally is valued in the trillions of dollars.
I would suggest to you that there are a number of initiatives that the Government of Canada could and should undertake in order to improve the lot of Canadians who encounter difficulty while outside Canada.
The first such initiative is to create a legal basis establishing the responsibility of the Government of Canada to provide consular services to all Canadians. I would emphasize the word “all”. Since the creation of the consular services in the aftermath of the Second World War, the provision of such services is discretionary on the part of the government and is considered part of the crown prerogative. Simply put, since it's not established in Canadian law, the government of the day can decide who is to be helped or not helped. Needless to say, such discretion on the part of governments has occasionally led to discrimination, with serious consequences for the Canadians involved.
Some of you may be familiar with an issue in the last Parliament, when a number of private members' bills were advanced in order to change that particular aspect of consular services, but they never reached the level of law. Most recently, in 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada reaffirmed that crown prerogative was still a factor in the work in this area.
When you look at this particular aspect of consular services, I think you should bear in mind that Canadians pay directly for consular services through a consular service fee that was enacted in 1996. I had a hand in its enactment back then. Well over a billion dollars has been collected through that fee, which has gone into the general revenues of the government. An examination—and there have been examinations over the years on the use of those monies paid—suggests that there is a significant discrepancy between the fees collected and the expenditures associated with consular services. This is a direct contravention of the law establishing the fee.
The second area needing urgent attention is the policy associated with negotiating the release of Canadians kidnapped overseas. As matters now stand, there is an absolute prohibition, both in law and in policy, on the payment of ransom in such situations. Last year, this policy probably contributed to the deaths of John Ridsdel and Robert Hall following their kidnapping in the southern Philippines in 2016.
There is much ambiguity on the value of this approach in such kidnappings. These are discussed in a paper that the Rideau Institute will release next week. It's a paper that I wrote in the last few weeks. It's called “Political Violence and Kidnapped Canadians”. That paper gives considerable detail on the issues involved here. I would hope that the committee will find the time to look at it as you discuss this subject.
Associated with the issue of Canadian policy on the payment of ransom in kidnapping cases is the role of the RCMP. It is evident that in some of the recent kidnapping cases the RCMP has played a large role. There has been no public examination of this role, and its value to the successful conclusion of such cases is ambiguous at best. It would be appropriate for the committee to examine this role and establish its value and/or its dangers.
Finally, I would emphasize a need for the establishment of an independent mechanism that would adjudicate disputes on consular services between Canadians and the government. There are a number of mechanisms active in mediating disputes between Canadians and the government, and they have been successful in dealing with a variety of disputes. There is no mechanism available to mediate or adjudicate disputes concerning consular services. At this time, consular disputes are without mediation or adjudication, except for action within the judicial system.
You are all familiar with the decisions of the courts in the last few years in terms of their granting of monies to people who have taken the government to court. We're talking of tens of millions of dollars, and there is still a case before one court right now where the award in effect will probably outdistance some of the previous ones we've heard about. Putting in place a mechanism that will help deal with these sorts of problems before they end up in the courts would be useful for everyone.
Two years ago, I wrote a paper called, “Canadians Abroad: A Policy and Legislative Agenda”. Again, it was released by the Rideau Institute. That paper details a number of consular issues that require attention. I draw it to your attention. I would hope that it would help inform you in your discussions on this subject.
Equally, as the chairman mentioned in his introduction, I've written extensively in the media on these matters. Committee members may find the articles useful in your discussions. These articles were published in my book Afterwords: From a Foreign Service Odyssey. I'll leave a copy of it with your clerk. You can distribute it and see for yourself.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
With regard to the mechanics of registering, we've been doing it for years and it's probably about as easy as it can be, but most Canadians, when they head off for the southern sun and things like that, don't think a disaster is just around the corner, and more often than not they're not prepared to register.
I think the other element in all of this, though, is that governments are not being proactive enough in talking to the media when these times of crisis occur. Quite often they will use the Privacy Act and say that we can't say things about an individual and things like that. If you go to the site of the Privacy Commissioner, he has a section on that that says things in this area are not what the Privacy Act is meant to protect.
It's not only Foreign Affairs; all parts of government will use the Privacy Act to not talk to Canadians about things they are doing. You're not out to expose an individual Canadian, but there is no reason you can't provide more of an explanation to Canadians about what's going on.
On your reference to the events in the Caribbean last fall, what surprised me as an outsider looking at all of this was how many got back home in a relatively short period of time. I don't know how many of those we've done over the years. The worst one, of course, was out of Lebanon in...I forget what year it was. It was 2006 or something. On the registration side of it, I think they looked at that and said that there were 3,000 Canadians in Lebanon that we had to help. By the time it was all over, there were 40,000 Canadians in Lebanon who had to be evacuated, and every other country that had populations out of the Middle East ran into exactly the same problem.
I think somebody told me that everybody arrived on the spot marked for charter boats, because it was very difficult to get in there by air. You had to use a boat to get from Lebanon up to Cyprus or somewhere else in the Middle East, and even the boats were just not available to do it, and the Israelis were maintaining a blockade on the Lebanese coast. There are problems you run into in these areas in terms of time.
That was a special case. There was an act of war under way. More often than not, and in the Caribbean in particular, as I understand it.... I have a friend who went down to the British Virgin Islands right afterward, who is quite familiar with the place, and he said he did not even recognize it. Everything had been wiped out on the island, and when I say “wiped out”, I'm not talking about just the vegetation; I'm talking about every service that you would hope would be available for you.
There is no easy answer, other than that I think you have to talk to Canadians as much as you possibly can while the crisis is going on, not after the fact, when you measure and say, “Yes, we did pretty well on that one.” Canadians want the information on that just as quickly as CNN or CBC gives it to them, because they are saying things that may be different from what the government is saying indirectly.