A new Canadian Foreign Minister, updates on Yemen, Israel-Palestine, Ukraine, Bolivia and more!

New Foreign Minister for Canada

Canada has a new Foreign Minister and not a moment too soon. Despite the general media view that Chrystia Freeland was a star in the role, many in the know do not agree. See for example the excellent commentary by Konrad Yakabuski in the opinion section of the Globe and Mail:

Under Mr. Champagne’s predecessor, Chrystia Freeland, this country has not been seen in diplomatic circles as the honest broker that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had aspired to make us when he declared that “Canada is back” in 2015. Rather, we became known for taunting, grandstanding and preaching, not to mention shirking our international obligations….

Ms. Freeland may have taken great pride in being declared persona non grata by the Putin regime. But that in no way advanced Canada’s interests with our Arctic neighbour.

For the full article, see: As Canada’s new Foreign Affairs Minister, can Champagne fix what Freeland broke? (theglobeandmail.com, 20 Nov, 2019)

Our new Foreign Minister, Quebec MP and experienced Cabinet minister, François-Philippe Champagne, has his work cut out for him. Jocelyn Coulon, writing in OpenCanada.org observes:

More than ever, Canada needs a full-time foreign minister. And…the new one, François-Philippe Champagne … has a lot to do. It is not going to be easy.

Coulon draws attention, as we have in previous blogs, to the urgent need to rebuild diplomatic capacity in Global Affairs Canada. We also agree that the really big question is whether the Prime Minister, with Freeland as his deputy, will let Champagne “approach the file with fresh eyes.”

We certainly hope so, and are somewhat comforted by the fact that Deputy Prime Minister Freeland will be more than occupied with the morass of federal-provincial relations, not to mention a US-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement that has yet to be ratified by the USA.

We also believe that the Quebec media, including Radio Canada, is likely to subject Minister Champagne to far more rigorous scrutiny from a progressive perspective, than the English Canadian media, including the CBC, has ever done in relation to Minister Freeland,” observed RI President Peggy Mason.

For the full Coulon article, see: A tough mandate for Canada’s new foreign minister, François-Philippe Champagne (Jocelyn Coulon, 20 Nov 2019).

Canada’s continued complicity in the Yemen nightmare

The latest report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) states that September 2019 was the deadliest month ever for Yemeni civilians.

Yet we learned yesterday that a Global Affairs review of our military exports to Saudi Arabia has concluded they are not contributing to gross human rights abuses in the Yemen conflict. Recall  a key government rationale for the original April 2016 approval of the LAV export permits by then FM Dion was that the light armoured vehicles would help Riyadh in its efforts at “countering instability in Yemen” as well as in fighting Islamic State threats:

The acquisition of state-of-the-art armoured vehicles will assist Saudi Arabia in these goals…”  the memo says.

Despite this clear link with the Yemen conflict, the review has concluded that only “older” LAVs, exported under previous contracts, are being used and only on the border with Yemen. The review states:

There is no evidence or credible reporting that would link any Canadian exports (e.g. ground vehicles, sniper rifles) to contraventions of international humanitarian law in Yemen.

This flies in the face in of credible video evidence showing Canadian-made LAVs being used on the battlefield in Yemen.

Even if the vehicles being used in the Yemen conflict were older Canadian-made LAVs exported under previous contracts, there is still the issue of the ongoing maintenance and provision of parts. And there is the prospect that, at any time, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia can decide to begin using the newer LAVs as well.

The review was signed off by former FM Freeland on 17 September. That was the same day that the amended Export and Import Permits Act came into effect. The test under Canada’s new legal regime is whether there is a substantial risk that the Canadian-made LAVS could be used “to commit or to facilitate” gross breaches of humanitarian law.

Lawyer and RI President Peggy Mason notes:

In the past, the test was limited to risk of direct use, not risk of facilitation as well. Given the findings by the UN that Saudi-led ground forces in Yemen have committed war crimes including torture, forced disappearances and the use of child soldiers, together with the mountain of video footage of their use of Canadian-made LAVs, it is hard to imagine how a court could avoid a finding of substantial risk.

And that is clearly what it is now going to take – a court ruling to stop these unconscionable exports, just as has happened in the United Kingdom.

For an excellent article (that is not behind a pay wall) outlining NGO disbelief over the conclusions reached by Global Affairs in its internal review, see: Experts dispute Canada’s claim of no link between Saudi arms sales and human rights abuses (Andrew Russell, globalnews.ca, 22 Nov 2019).

Update on 15 Nov Blog on Moscow Nonproliferation Conference 2019

On 15 November RI President Peggy Mason posted a blog of her assessment of the 2019 Moscow Nonproliferation Conference entitled: The big losers were the no shows. Chief among that group was the USA which declined to send an official delegation.

The original version of the blog also erroneously included Canada in the no-show category. We subsequently amended the blog to correct the record and report that Cheryl Cruz, Deputy Director (Nuclear NACD Policy) of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Division of Global Affairs was indeed a delegate to the conference. Her email to us concluded:

In short, Canada was certainly not a no-show in Moscow, and we will continue to be very active in the international community in the lead-up to [2020 NPT] Review Conference (and beyond) in the non-proliferation and disarmament space.

Her full description of the activities in which Canada is engaged in the lead up to the 2020 NPT Review Conference in New York City in May can be accessed here.

Other extremely newsworthy notes:

UN Vote on Palestinian right of self-determination

This week saw a most welcome change of vote by Canada in the UN General Assembly to once again reflect long-standing Canadian policy in support of the Palestinian right of self-determination. Yes, you read that right. After 15 years, our policy and our UN vote finally lined up again. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s absurd and dangerous assertion that Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories are “not, per se, inconsistent with international law” was clearly a bridge too far even for Canada.

For more information on this hugely important step see:

More evidence that Canada’s “support” for the new Bolivian government is ill-advised.

There is increasing evidence of the truly horrific regime now in control in Bolivia which Canada, under FM Freeland, took the inexplicable decision to “support”.

The new Minister needs to review this file as a priority, not least because of the danger to the Bolivian indigenous population.

More progress on peace talks between Russia and Ukraine

For further details of this extremely good news, see: Ukraine-Russia relations thawing ahead of talks (Aljazeera.com, 22 Nov 2019) and France to host Dec. 9 ‘Normandy’summit in push for east Ukraine peace (reuters.com, 15 Nov 2019)

Whither Canada?

If one reviews the Global Affairs often impenetrable website pages on our activities to date in support of Ukraine, no mention of the Minsk Peace Process will be found.

This is an area where the new Minister can immediately signal Canada’s renewed commitment to multilateral diplomatic peacemaking.

He can take a decisive step away from the current, decidedly “harperesque” approach, best reflected in the comment by Royal Military College professor, Lubomyr Luciuk, in a 21 November letter to the Globe and Mail, where he decried pundit Yakabuski’s criticism of Freeland’s Ukraine policy referenced at the beginning of this blog.  Luciuk asks:

What did Chrystia Freeland break by calling out Vladimir Putin on the invasion of Ukraine? Canada’s interests are best served when we take a principled stand instead of trying to appease a bully.

It is extremely important to understand exactly what the RMC professor is saying. First, the red herring – implying that the Globe and Mail opinion writer was in disagreement with the condemnation of Russian behaviour in Ukraine. That was not the issue. Yakabuski’s criticism of Freeland was over her failure to make any diplomatic efforts on behalf of Canada to help resolve the conflict.

This is exactly what President Macron of France and others in the Normandy process are doing. Professor Luciuk is equating such constructive diplomacy with “appeasement of the bully”. This is dangerous nonsense, designed to foster a “them versus us” mentality that leaves no room for negotiation.

We fervently hope that Foreign Minister Champagne will bring Canadian policy on Ukraine solidly back in line with our too-long neglected “honest broker” role at a time when it is in short supply and needed more than ever. – RI President Peggy Mason

We join in the call for Canada to approach the Russia and Ukraine files “with fresh eyes” with a view to wholeheartedly supporting the diplomatic efforts now underway to peacefully resolve the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

Photo credit: Government of Canada (House of Commons)




Tags: 2020 NPT Review Conference, Bolivia, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), Deputy Minister Chrystia Freeland, Export and Import Permits Act, Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, Global Affairs Nuclear NACD Policy, Global Affairs review of Saudi arms exports, Normandy Summit, OCHA, Palestine right to self-determination, President Macron, RMC Professor Lubomyr Luciuk, Royal Military College (RMC), Ukraine, UN vote on Palestinian right to self-determination, war crimes in Yemen, Yemen