Speaking Notes for the Minister of Transport, the Honourable Marc Garneau, at the Safer Skies Forum 


December 8, 2020

Good morning,

First of all, let me welcome everyone to this inaugural Safer Skies Forum.

Before I begin, I would like to bring to your attention that in the meeting documents you’ve received are two videos from the families of victims of flights MH17 and PS752. It’s important, as we gather to address the Safer Skies Initiative, that we all remember why we are here, and why this issue is important. As not everyone could join us during this morning’s session, we found it necessary to circulate these videos to all participants directly, so that everyone has a chance to hear directly from those that were profoundly affected. We asked them to speak openly about their stories.

When Prime Minister Trudeau announced our strategy for this Forum in February, we did not envisage it looking like this. Regardless, it is wonderful to see so many of you participating in this virtual format. You are a diverse and global group – including Member States, international organizations, and the civil aviation industry.

I would like to acknowledge other Ministers of Transport who are with us today, as well as the President of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council, Ambassadors, and ICAO Council members.

Today, we stand on the shoulders of years of dedication and progress by our friends in the Netherlands. We owe them a debt of gratitude.

We also stand before the families of those who have been lost in senseless and preventable tragedies. In particular, Canada continues to feel the pain of the loss of the 176 people who were killed on January 8, when Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 was shot down. Of the 176 lives lost, 55 were Canadian citizens and 30 were permanent residents. This forum, and the work of Canada, the Netherlands, all of the Co-Sponsors of our work at ICAO, and all nations of the Coordination Group, is dedicated to their memory.

We have come together with a common goal – to establish a common set of principles and practices, and to better protect passengers, because no civilian should ever be put at risk because they are flying over or near a conflict zone.

We have a duty to learn from past events. We must take action, to properly commemorate tragedies, and the victims of those tragedies.

We know that the way we work together now is not enough. We have to do better. As States, we have a responsibility to make air travel as safe and secure as possible, and we owe it to thousands of victims and their families.

Through the Safer Skies Initiative, we want to see change in how countries work together to share information, advice, warnings, and best practices to properly recognize conflict zones, and proactively manage risks to civil aviation.

Specifically, we need to address gaps in how the civil aviation sector deals with conflict zones.

We need better risk assessments, effective safeguards, and clear accountability for operators and the authorities who manage airspace. If that isn’t enough, we will need a unified approach, to take immediate action to restrict their domestic carriers from flying over or near a conflict zone.

Every state has sovereignty over its airspace. However, it also has an obligation to mitigate risks to commercial carriers, both foreign and domestic, flying in its airspace.

This Forum is an opportunity for collaboration and sharing among members of the aviation community. It is also a chance to reflect on what has worked, and what has not. We will address a variety of topics, including best practices and strategies to mitigate the risks from conflict zones. With our collective shared experiences and expertise, we will clearly define conflict zones. We will work together to mitigate potential risk to overflight aircraft. We will advocate for worldwide implementation of ICAO’s Standards and Recommended Practices.

The Safer Skies Initiative requires support and commitment. Our collective success depends on our ability to work together, toward our common goal.

A Safer Skies Commitment Statement has been shared with you, leading up to this event. I am inviting you to endorse this Statement. We are seeking your pledge to:

  • First of all, improve the sharing of information, advice, warnings, and best practices, in order to properly identify and manage risks posed to civil aviation operating in or around conflict zones.

  • Secondly, develop domestic civil aviation authority-led requirements for air operators who fly internationally, to incorporate risk assessment and mitigation protocols related to conflict zones into their safety and security management systems.

  • Thirdly, support requests from States whose territories suffer hostilities, to address airspace management and to de conflict civilian and military operations.

  • Fourth, encourage enhanced collaboration among civil aviation authorities, air navigation service providers, and agencies responsible for national defense during emerging threat situations.

  • And, finally, implement ICAO conflict zone and airspace-management-related Standards and Recommended Practices and, where possible, provide advice to other States to address any implementation challenges.

Your endorsement will help to save lives. To safeguard the future of civil aviation, we must take positive action, and make a commitment to prevent future tragedies.

We must be more connected, more proactive, and more committed than ever.

And I can tell you right now, that Canada is firmly committed to this objective.

By participating in this Safer Skies Forum, you are demonstrating a commitment, as well. Only by working together can we make our skies safer.

Canada will continue to be steadfast in spearheading the Safer Skies Initiative. We are dedicated to furthering this work with ICAO and the international civil aviation community. We are committed to continuing the progress that has already been achieved, alongside the Netherlands and other partners, to reduce the risk of conflict zones and their disastrous effects.

These risks cannot effectively be mitigated on a case-by-case basis, or bilaterally, or between a limited number of countries and organizations. International aviation partners must come together to build a robust system capable of protecting civilian flight operations for all air operators and flight paths.

To those who have already endorsed the Safer Skies Commitment Statement and its principles, I thank you. Canada thanks you. For those States who have not yet had the opportunity to endorse this Statement, I strongly encourage you to do so.

Over the next two days, let’s work together to advance and strengthen the global response to the risks conflict zones pose to the traveling public and to the aviation system. I know that our work is critical, and that it will have a global impact.

I mentioned and thanked the Netherlands earlier, and I must do so again. They have been the leaders we look up to. The work that we do today, and beyond today, builds upon their work. I am grateful to our friends in the Netherlands for their achievements.

We are an international community. We are here – together – to discuss, to learn, and to elaborate on strategies, practices, and standards that will protect people from all corners of the globe.

When people are travelling from one part of the world to another, they shouldn’t have to worry about preventable dangers. Where there are conflict zones, civilians should not be placed at risk.

The risks of conflict zones can be mitigated. Together, we will find a way.

This is the inaugural Safer Skies Forum. It will not be the last.

I extend special thanks to our keynote speakers, the co-sponsors of the Safer Skies Initiative at ICAO, and other partners. I look forward to hearing from you.

And I thank all of you for your participation in this Forum.

Je vous remercie toutes et tous de votre participation au forum. Merci de votre volonté, de votre ouverture et de votre désir de travailler ensemble pour rendre nos espaces aériens plus sûrs.

I thank you for your willingness, your openness, and your desire to work together to make the skies safer.

Thank you very much.

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