4 Foreign Policy Debates Canada Needs before the Next Election: ISIS, Palestine, First Nations and Canadian Investment Abroad

March 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

In his nine years as our leader, Prime Minister Harper has transformed Canadian foreign policy. These eventful years contain three combat missions, a Middle East policy sharply to the right of the international mainstream and free trade deals or negotiations from Honduras to Ukraine.  Whether you agree or not, Stephen Harper has made a deep historic impact on Canada’s place in the world. Our next election will determine if we deepen this direction, or set a different international course for Canada.

These are the four topics I want to hear about before I vote. Please comment with what you think.

What else can we do about the Islamic State: A Canadian general told me in 2010 that killing more Taliban would not solve Afghanistan’s problem. The same goes for the Islamic State. We are at the beginning of a long campaign in a long war that does not have a military solution. The solution is for Syrians and Iraqis to responsibly and democratically govern themselves. Seeds of democracy can be planted in the midst of conflict. Training the next generation of political leaders in democratic practice will help them be successful and have positive views of Canada. Cross-border training in municipal governance would speed post-conflict recovery. University classes for refugees preserves human capital and keeps hope in the future alive. We could go big, especially on human rights and help build case files for human rights prosecutions when that time comes. Canada is doing a small amount in these areas, but nowhere near what the military mission costs. Leaders should have a long term civ-mil strategy and tell us what it is.

 The State of Palestine: The two state solution for Middle East peace needs another state. We have the State of Israel. We don’t have the State of Palestine – yet. Most Canadians probably don’t realise that almost two thirds of UN members representing most of the world’s population already recognise the State of Palestine. Sweden did it last October.

The Oslo agreements are twenty years old. I don’t think it’s smart to keep expecting negotiations between Palestine and Israel to produce a workable deal. Why not recognize the Palestinian State now and work with others to help it progressively assume its security, democratic and environmental duties over its territory and people? The next Canadian government will need a policy on this, and we deserve a debate about it.

Global Indigenous Rights: First Nations have lived in harmony with their environment for countless generations. Our country has a lot to learn about respecting First Nations rights in this land. Not only the rights granted by the Crown, but also those set out for all Indigenous Peoples by the UN. The fact that Canada is before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the tragedy of missing and murdered aboriginal women should compel serious action. Canada is one of the few countries that voted against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, but then we turned around and endorsed it in 2010. It’s a confusing picture. At the same time as (I hope) we move urgently on Indigenous rights in Canada, I think that we deserve a debate on how Canada’s foreign and investment policy can help protect the rights of all Indigenous People across the world.

Investment and Human Rights: After 24 Sussex Drive, the address of the most powerful source of Canadian international influence is 130 King Street West. The Toronto Stock Exchange is a huge source of capital for the global mining and energy sector and deeply affects environments, economies and societies around the world. There is polarized debate about whether this investment is creating growth and opportunity, or inequality and conflict. If you trade in New York, you have to report your use of conflict minerals, but not in Toronto. I want to hear what the leaders say about their policies for Canadian mining and energy investment abroad and how the Canadian capital market can best support peace and development the world.

What debates do you want to see?

Two Moral Hazards and a Policy Dilemma in Canada’s Fight against the Islamic State

November 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

I support Canada’s participation in the fight against ISIL. The scale of human rights violations and threat to international peace and security posed by the so-called Islamic State fully justify our combat role. I also support our Government’s incremental approach at this early stage of what will be another long war. Our objective, as stated by Prime Minister Harper to Parliament is to “limit the ability of ISIL to engage in full scale military movements and to operate bases in the open.”

There is no end game, yet. But we need one pretty soon.

The failure of the respective Syrian and Iraqi governments to control their territory or responsibly govern their citizens, combined with the scale, territorial advances and momentum of ISIL, tell us that we are in for a major international campaign. Right now, the confidence of the Canadian  public in the Canadian Forces is rock solid. For this to remain so, it is important that we recognize and prepare for the moral hazards that a fight of this nature inevitably entails for Canada and our military. Two come to mind.

Civilian Casualties of the Air Campaign: Thankfully, technical briefings by the Canadian Forces show that the Canadian air campaign has not incurred any civilian casualties yet. But it may happen in the future. The moral hazard of innocent civilian casualties can be attenuated by providing fair compensation for victims. How do we plan to do this?

Human Rights Conduct of the Iraqi Armed Forces and Peshmerga: The refrain has been repeated many times that this will not be about Canadian or American combat boots on the ground. The success of the campaign and our reputation will be affected by the conduct of our partners. We saw this with the issue of detainees in Afghanistan where we decided that Canada needed to directly monitor prisoners after they were passed to Afghan custody in order to prevent torture. Human rights violations by our partners would taint our policy and create yet another layer of grievance to complicate future governance. Are we monitoring the human rights behaviour of our regional military partners?

When the military has turned the tide against ISIL, the requirements of stabilization and reconstruction will come into focus. It will be huge and hugely expensive. It wasn’t until years after we had committed ourselves to Afghanistan that we came to understand the true cost and duration required. A duration that spanned electoral cycles. The policy dilemma is when to decide and seek parliamentary approval for the composition and cost of Canada’s whole of government commitment – and whether to make it proportionate to the challenge.  

Do the Right Thing – That’s what People will Remember about Canada

September 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

In Argentina, the Canadian Embassy has been a very close friend to the organization Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. This is a civic organization which was established because of the practice of the last Argentine military dictatorship to disappear people, which happed to some 30,000 Argentines. The Grandmothers organized their work because, among the disappeared, were hundreds of their young grandchildren and pregnant daughters or daughters-in-law, pregnant with their grandchildren to be. They symbolize a powerful human response to inhuman cruelty and are today helping children of the disappeared discover and recover their identity. You may have seen in the news that this year the leader of the Grandmothers, Estela Carlotta, finally found her grandson (see BBC report here) who was stolen from his mother in 1978 after she gave birth in a detention centre of the military dictatorship.

One day Rosa Rosenblit, Vice President of the Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo came to see me. She wanted to present a book to the Ambassador of Canada. It was a book that chronicled the international support they received in their struggle for justice. She came to the Canadian Embassy because Canada was the first source international support they received. Just as I was puffing myself up to acknowledge and explain Canada’s rich foreign policy tradition in the advancement of human rights, Rosa went on to say that women from a church in Toronto had taken up a collection to send the Grandmothers money and this was the first action of international solidarity to help them. The Canadians were the first foreign friends to do the right thing for the disappeared grandchildren and this will never be forgotten.

We all remember that the Canadian discussion of detainees in Afghanistan has been a matter of bitter controversy. It was a debate about doing the right thing. As you may know, the responsibilities of the Canadian team of civilians in Kandahar included detainee monitoring. This is an unusual diplomatic activity, although routine on the consular side with respect to visiting Canadians in jail abroad. Our work in Kandahar was specialized and involved frequent structured meetings with Afghans detained by Canadian forces and then transferred to Afghan prisons. The monitoring continued until the detainees were sentenced or released and continued after we completed the Kandahar combat and civilian missions (see here).

As we were completing our mission in Kandahar in the run-up to July 2011, I made calls on our Kandahari partners to ask them what they would remember as the Canadian legacy in their province. Some said that they would remember that Canada held the line against the fierce Taliban surprise offensive in 2005 and 2006. Some mentioned the training of police and soldiers. Others spoke about the building of schools and help for Kandahar University or university or irrigation for farmers. Many were amazed that a faraway country would send and sacrifice their young men and women to help Kandaharis. There is no question that Canada has won a prominent place in the history and hearts of the people of Kandahar and I am proud to have been part of that effort. It was one in which Canada was put to the test at the epicenter of the first great geopolitical crisis of the 21st century.

But the most amazing comment that I heard from several people was about our detainee monitoring. We never publicized it actively, although it was included in reports to parliament. But it seemed that everyone in Kandahar knew. Apparently it was discussed on their radio stations. Most people knew someone by first, second or third hand who had been in jail. They were struck and amazed that Canada cared about the rights and dignity of its enemies. Moreover, we demonstrated this not by slogans, but by our conduct. For this, too, Canada will be remembered for doing the right thing.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Human Rights category at Diplomatic Counsel.