Madam Chair, thank you very much.
I just want to say, colleagues, thank you for welcoming me to the foreign affairs committee at a time when I think our nation is faced with a number of challenges.
I want to take this opportunity, Madam Chair, to thank the outstanding officials who are standing with me. Many of them have been working 24-7 for the last few months, I would say, and they have been doing their utmost to provide the best services to Canadians in difficult circumstances, whether in coronavirus assistance in Japan and China, to efforts in Iran, where we had to face a number of challenges, and then obviously in our relationship in trying to obtain the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor and clemency for Mr. Schellenberg.
Madam Chair and honourable members, thank you for welcoming me to appear before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development to speak about our government's foreign policy mandate and our current priorities.
I would like to begin by emphasizing that Canadian interests, values and principles are the heart of everything that we do on the international stage, from our commitment to multilateral institutions to our trade agreements and our defence and promotion of human rights. This approach is critical in an increasingly unpredictable world where the rules-based system is under strain.
This is evident in the rise of populism and protectionism and the growth of economic and technological inequalities around the world.
This is evident in the serious doubt being cast upon multilateral institutions and the rules-based international order.
This is also evident in the decline of human rights and the increasingly selective enforcement of international law.
Increasingly, human rights are under threat, from the plight of the Rohingya to the rise of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia to attacks on human rights defenders. Add to that an immense demographic transformation. By 2050, the world's population could increase by 2.2 billion people, and 2.2 billion people will also be facing the existential threat of our time, which is, obviously, climate change.
This observation may, of course, seem daunting, even insurmountable to some. However, there are also encouraging signs that give hope.
Inspiring people are advancing our societies and improving the lives of marginalized people the world over.
There is also a growing consensus on human rights, including women's rights, LGBTQ2 rights and democratic rights, around the globe.
Madam Chair, major international challenges require global solutions, and I think we're seeing it today with the coronavirus in particular. Hence, the importance of a rules-based international order that every country can count on to defend their interests while ensuring the collective interests of all.
However, that rules-based international order, as you well know, my dear colleagues, is under threat in many, many corners of the world. This is why we must support and modernize the multilateral system to ensure its sustainability, and this is where Canada can, and indeed must, play a leading role.
Canada has a voice in almost every major international forum: the G7, the G20, the Francophonie, the Commonwealth, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, the North American Aerospace Defence Command, or NORAD, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, to name but a few.
The very principles on which the confederation of our country is based—peace, order and good government—resonate in many parts of the world. Our reputation and credibility as a country rest on our ability to demonstrate to our partners and allies how our principles and values concretely guide our diplomacy around the world.
Let me now present to you the priorities that guide my mandate so far.
First is Iran and the tragedy of flight PS752. If anything, it illustrates the importance of diplomacy and multilateralism. Faced with this tragedy, we chose engagement, while remaining firm so that justice could be done for the families of the victims.
Canada led the creation of the international coordination and response group for victims of flight PS752 to ensure that the international community could speak to Iran with one voice, and despite the pitfalls, despite the lack of diplomatic relations with Iran, we were able to quickly dispatch investigators to the field and repatriate the bodies of the victims in accordance with the wishes of the families.
Much work remains to be done, Madam Chair, for Iran to assume full responsibility, including a complete and transparent investigation, the downloading and analysis of the black boxes and swift compensation for the families. We are working hard to make progress on all these fronts. We will continue to hold the Iranian regime accountable, and as I've said many times, we will judge Iran not by its words but by its actions.
Let me now turn to China.
The year 2020 will mark 50 years of diplomatic relations between Canada and the People's Republic of China. Unfortunately, the relationship between our two countries is currently undergoing a turbulent period.
Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been arbitrarily detained for over a year now. Our top priority remains securing their release. We are also working to obtain clemency for Robert Schellenberg who, as you know, Madam Chair, has been sentenced to death in China.
International partners share our opinion. The action of a state within the framework of an international treaty must never generate reprisals against its citizens abroad.
However, our relationship with China remains complex and multidimensional. Finding the right balance is a delicate operation. There will always be issues where we will have differences and issues on which will have overlapping positions. So we must learn to live with this new complexity.
For example, it is possible to work with China on reforming the World Trade Organization, or WTO, while having divergent positions on human rights.
One thing is for sure. Our relations with China will always be guided by the interests of Canadians and by our commitment to the roles and principles enshrined in international law.
Another priority, Madam Chair, is our campaign for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. As I've said before, a seat on the Security Council is not an end in itself: It is a vehicle for promoting the principles and the values that shape our vision of international relations. We are witnessing a major questioning of the capacity of international institutions to respond to the crises of our time, particularly in Asia and Africa and Latin America. There's an urgent need to develop new approaches and create new consensus to face these challenges. Our campaign for a seat on the Security Council is therefore a great opportunity for Canada to demonstrate leadership: to assert our interests, principles and values; and to strengthen and adapt multilateralism to the realities of today.
Some will say that the fight for a seat on the United Nations, or UN, Security Council is not worth it or that it may be too late. However, it is never too late to fight for women's rights, human rights, the environment or democracy.
Some will even criticize the Security Council, saying it is obsolete or even ineffective. Nevertheless, it remains one of the most important forums in the world where major decisions on peace and security are taken. It is a forum where Canada can have both a relevant voice and an influence.
Finally. I'd like to say a word about our relationship with our neighbours to the south, the United States. We are inseparable allies, partners and friends because of our geography, our personal ties and, of course, our economic ties.
The new NAFTA opens another chapter in our relationship, one of prosperity, opportunity and stability. As evidenced by the sometimes difficult negotiations over the last two years, our government will never compromise on the interests of Canadians.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the and my predecessor for their tireless work, which brought increased stability and predictability to our commercial relationship with the United States, our biggest and largest trading partner.
To conclude, some may say that in a minority government we have to act quickly to achieve our objectives, but as an African proverb I've quoted before says that if you want to go fast, you go alone, but if you want to go far, let's walk together.
Hence the importance of an inclusive approach, such as the one I am proposing to you today, where provinces, territories, businesses, non-governmental organizations, artists, civil society and members of Parliament from all parties, in cooperation with our international partners, work with us to build a greener, fairer, safer, more inclusive and more prosperous world.
Well, thank you for that question, Madam Chair.
I want to give my thanks to our consular officials. I think what my officials have done with respect to the repatriation of people from Wuhan and Hubei provinces, from Japan, and more recently from Oakland is probably one of the biggest missions that has been undertaken in a long time.
In the case of Wuhan, we were facing a number of challenges. There are always three steps in that. You need to assess the situation, decide what you are going to do and then implement it. The first moment that we saw that the number of Canadians was sufficient to justify evacuation and that we needed to evacuate them, we chartered a plane. Then we had to organize the ground logistics.
For my colleagues to understand, to get the plane into China, we needed first to stage the plane in a location closer to China, because we had about a six-hour window from the moment we were given authorization to fly in the airspace to be on the ground, and repatriation needed to be done during the night.
In the background to that, we needed to make sure that people were at home, were informed about the flight and could cross all the checkpoints that would lead them to the airport. In some cases they had to go to 20 checkpoints, so it was about providing licence plates, drivers' numbers and vehicle models to make sure that people could have access. I was very proud that we could do that in a safe and efficient way. If you listen to the reports, they say that Canada's boarding process was one of the most efficient.
When it came to the Diamond Princess, Canada was there first with the CDC. We sent public health officials with American colleagues to talk to the Japanese as we saw the numbers of coronavirus increasing on the ship we were trying to access what was going on. I was pleased that we could repatriate all these Canadians safely to Trenton, working in an interdepartmental....
In the case of those who stayed there, at one stage we had 50 Canadians in 27 hospitals in a radius of 300 kilometres. We were providing what I called personalized consular services. Different families wanted different things. Some wanted means of communication, some wanted to adapt their meals and some wanted to make sure they had mental support. Again, this was unprecedented in everything that we have done so far, I would say, because of the type of services we were required to provide to provide comfort to Canadians. Also, if people were in a quarantine environment, we provided the type of resources needed to do that.
Indeed, I think it was last week that I spent a week.... We started our trip in Latvia to go see our troops. As you know, the largest contingent of Canadians is in Latvia. They're doing superb work as part of the NATO mission there in Operation Reassurance.
I will say that what I heard from the President of Latvia, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs was that Canadians are welcome. We are at the front line. We are providing assistance and deterrence. They were so proud to serve, and I was so proud to see them serve our country in Latvia, making a real difference. I was asked before what the Canadian difference is. Just go to Latvia and ask anyone on the street. Canadians are known and renowned for what we're doing to ensure stability and security in the Baltics.
Then we went on to Ukraine, which, as you know, is one of the relationships that dates far back. We have more than one million Ukrainians in Canada; they make up one of our largest communities. However, we're not in the Ukraine because we have 1.3 million Ukrainians in Canada. We're there because they're fighting for the values and principles of democracy, stability, security.
They had Crimea, which was illegally annexed. They're fighting in eastern Ukraine. We have Operation Unifier there. I spent time with the commander and the troops there. We have about 200 troops on that mission, providing assistance and training to the Ukrainian men and women who are, many of them, on the eastern front. I met also some amazing women. I remember one who basically led in the Maidan revolution there.
I was pleased that we spent more than an hour with President Zelenskyy of Ukraine. Obviously, Iran is a big topic when we meet, and it's not only about peace and security and how we can help reform the system. I often say that you need the three pillars of investment: stability, predictability and the rule of law. We've been asked what we can do there.
The other thing that we spent quite some time talking about is the black boxes. You may have noticed yesterday that thanks to our common pressure—both at the International Civil Aviation Organization and otherwise—the Iranian regime has said now that it will deliver the black boxes to Ukraine, or alternatively to France, for them to be downloaded.