Speech by the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development


February 8, 2018 – Ottawa, Ontario

Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the Government of Canada’s official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with its communications policy.

Mr. Chair, Honourable Members, thank you for the invitation to appear before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, to speak about how our government is delivering on its foreign policy priorities.  

Last June in the House of Commons, I laid out Canada’s foreign policy priorities. At their very core, these priorities rest on the importance of maintaining a stable, rules-based international order.

For our government, building on Canada’s long tradition of global engagement means a strong voice that stands up to intolerance and nativism, while also addressing the legitimate concerns of those who feel left behind by globalization.

It means demonstrating constructive leadership within the established international order and with our partners to promote peace, security and prosperity in the world.

Mr. Chair, this is exactly what our government is doing.

At the United Nations, the G7 and G20, the Organization of American States, the World Trade Organization, in the Commonwealth, La Francophonie and NATO, to name a few, Canada is engaging creatively to navigate the complexities of today’s world.

And we are doing so, Mr. Chair, not just 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.

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 toward a secure, prosperous and denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

Likewise, on Myanmar, I am proud of Canada’s leadership. Too often in diplomacy it is said words do not matter. But they do. And it is not insignificant that Canada was one of the first countries to denounce the crimes against humanity and the ethnic cleansing against 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 has contributed to match the donations of Canadians. And that is why we have appointed Bob Rae, an exemplary Canadian, as special envoy. As a non-Muslim majority country, Canada must continue to speak out against this tragedy. 

On Ukraine, I was pleased to visit in December and meet with President Poroshenko, Prime Minister Groysman and Foreign Minister Klimkin. I conveyed our unwavering support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and our recent addition of Ukraine to the Automatic Firearms Country Control List.

Last June, I also said we would take bold steps to ensure that all human beings are treated with dignity and respect, based on our unshakeable commitment to pluralism, human rights and the rule of law.

Since then, we adopted the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, 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 could not have happened without your leadership.

We continue to firmly speak out against injustice and intolerance elsewhere, as we have in places such as Yemen, Chechnya and Iran over the past months.   

You have also heard me speak about women and girls. As I said in June, it is important and historic that we have a proudly feminist prime minister and government. Women’s rights are human rights, and they are at the core of our foreign policy.

It is why we are committed to an ambitious feminist foreign policy.

This commitment is at the heart of the Feminist International Assistance Policy—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 on Women, Peace and Security, which I announced last November. I know the contribution of several committee members here was invaluable to the development of these policies, and I would like to thank you again.

At the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial Conference in November, Canada launched the Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations, which is aimed at ensuring women can fully participate in peace operations around the world, but also that the right conditions are put in place for their sustainable involvement. The Elsie Initiative is designed to improve the overall effectiveness of UN operations, and later this month Canada will be hosting a design conference with experts and partners to further develop this transformative initiative.  

Our reputation, as a country with clear and cherished democratic values that stands up for human rights, is strong. We must continue to be a global leader and keep working to protect these values and rights.

On this 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 of 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 Canada 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.

This experience did, however, cause me to pause and reexamine Canada’s export permit system.

My conclusion was that Canada can 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 those decisions. I have spoken with my counterparts in Germany, Sweden and The Netherlands, for example, 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 C-47, which would amend the Export and Import Permits Act to allow Canada to accede to the Arms Trade Treaty [ATT]. 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, from NGOs, and from Canadians. We also heard the clear desire to do better. We need to be ambitious and strengthen Bill C-47.

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 this is something we would welcome.

Going further than that, our government is today announcing its support for the inclusion of a substantial risk clause in the law.

Such a clause would mean that our government, and indeed 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. 

This is a significant decision. It will mean changes in how Canada regulates selling weapons. This is the right thing to do. Canadians fundamentally care about human rights for all, and Canadians rightly expect that exports are not 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, to the greatest extent possible, preexisting contracts.

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, and people must continue to be sure of the high worth of our word and our commitments.

They need to know that an agreement with Canada endures beyond elections.

This is important not only for our international partners, but also for Canadian companies and Canadian workers, who need to know that 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.

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 and growth in North America.

At the most recent round of talks in Montréal, we put forward some creative ideas with a view to establishing a constructive dialogue on certain key issues, including auto rules of origin, investment dispute settlement and the ongoing modernization of the agreement. Serious challenges remain, particularly with the U.S.’ unconventional proposals.

As the Prime Minister said yesterday in Chicago, our objective is a good deal, not just any deal.

At the negotiating table, Canada always takes a fact-based approach. We are always polite and are adept at seeking creative solutions and win-win-win compromises. But we are also resolute: Canada will only accept an agreement that 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 the coming year: our G7 presidency. This is an opportunity for us to speak with a strong voice on the international stage.

In assuming the 2018 G7 presidency, Canada will engage G7 counterparts on pressing global challenges, such as investing in growth that works for everyone; preparing for the jobs of the future; working together on climate change, oceans and clean energy; and building a more peaceful and secure world. Above all, we will advance gender equality and the empowerment of women, and will ensure that a gender-based analysis is applied to all aspects of our presidency.

Mr. Chair, let me end by saying that within the G7 and with the broader global community, Canada continues to support and seek ways to strengthen a rules-based international order.

We are doing this wherever and however we can, in a manner that explicitly embraces the connection between peace, shared prosperity, open trade and human rights.

Thank you.

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