Interventions in Committee
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View Dean Allison Profile
Good afternoon, everyone.
Pursuant to Standing Order 81(4), we're here to talk about the main estimates for 2015-16. Welcome to our witnesses.
Before we have our opening statements, I want to recognize our colleagues from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. We have Daniel Jean, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. Welcome, sir. We're glad to have you here for the first time before a committee.
We have Malcolm Brown, Deputy Minister of International Development. Welcome, sir. We're glad to have you.
We also have Arun Thangaraj, acting assistant deputy minister and chief financial officer. I know you've been with us before. Thank you very much for being here.
We'll start our opening statements with Minister Nicholson. Then we'll go to Minister Paradis and Minister Yelich.
After your opening statements, we will go around the room for questions back and forth. We're scheduled to meet until 1:30. At about 1:25 I will cut it off, because we have just a tiny bit of committee business that we need to deal with. It's not a lot, but it's still something that we need to deal with to give direction before the break.
Minister Nicholson, Minister of Foreign Affairs, welcome. We'll start with your opening statement, sir. Then we'll go through the other opening statements and get right to questions.
View Rob Nicholson Profile
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I am pleased to be joined by my colleagues, the Honourable Christian Paradis, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, and the Honourable Lynne Yelich, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Consular.
We have seen important progress towards policy coherence since the 2013 amalgamation of the three key functions of our department: diplomacy, trade, and development. We've also seen the growing complexity of today's geopolitical landscape. Threats to international security are taking on many different forms. Insurgency and asymmetric warfare waged by ISIL and its affiliates is one example. Iran's sponsorship of Shia sectarian militias and proxies, like Hezbollah, is another. Of course, Russia's hybrid warfare in eastern Europe is yet another example among many.
As a result, the amalgamation is now allowing foreign service officers to advance Canadian values and interests on files with unparalleled complexity, using a wide range of knowledge that they didn't have access to before, delivering better results for Canadians. The need for this kind of effective policy and program coherence is most evident in the Middle East, where many of our latest security challenges are concentrated. In recent months the world has seen the rapid growth of violent extremist groups, including the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. In Syria and Iraq, this has led to the largest humanitarian catastrophe of this century.
Although these threats stem from far abroad, they are felt here at home. Recent terrorist-inspired or terrorist-led attacks here in Canada and abroad remind us of the truly global threat of terrorism. They've carried out attacks on Canadian soil that claimed the lives of two of our Canadian Armed Forces personnel.
Canada has responded to this crisis with strength and compassion. We are working to halt ISIL's advance and assist vulnerable populations. With our allies in the global coalition against ISIL, Canada is pursuing five lines of effort: one, military assistance; two, humanitarian support; three, stemming the flow of foreign fighters; four, disrupting ISIL's financing; and finally, countering ISIL's depraved ideology. Iraq and Syria exist along the fault line of a broader sectarian war being waged across the region.
We also have grave concern that Russia's illegal invasion of Crimea and its destabilization of eastern Ukraine through hybrid warfare are stark reminders that traditional security threats have not disappeared. Canada will never recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea. We will continue to stand against Russian aggression as long as the Russian-sponsored insurgency continues.
Canada actively supports the Ukraine's democratic integration into Europe, as well as a potential integration with Europe security-wise.
We have imposed a broad range of sanctions against more than 270 Russian and Ukranian individuals and entities. We will do more as long as pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine continue to violate the February Minsk agreement.
Beyond sanctions, Canada has provided non-lethal assistance to Ukraine. Canada has provided radar images to help Ukranian forces monitor their border. Canada is supporting the OSCE special monitoring mission to monitor, track, and ultimately hold Russian aggression in Ukraine to account. Canada is providing bilateral development assistance to strengthen democracy and promote economic growth. Since January 2014, development assistance has gone up by more than $132 million.
All of these measures are integral to Canada's ongoing assistance to Ukraine's efforts to stabilize its new government, restart its economy, and re-establish its territorial integrity in the face of escalating Russian aggression.
When Prime Minister Harper welcomed Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko to Canada last September, they discussed the steps needed to restore Ukraine's territorial integrity and ensure the country's sovereignty in light of Russia's occupation of Crimea and its continued military aggression in eastern Ukraine. The Prime Minister also announced a $200-million loan to promote economic and financial sector reforms in Ukraine. This loan was followed by a second $200-million loan in January 2015. The more we can integrate Ukraine with the market-based economies of the world, the better the chance for Ukrainians to chart their own sovereign future.
Colleagues, support for Israel, especially its right to live in peace and security with its neighbours, has remained central to the core of our government's Middle East policy. We will not hesitate to speak out against those who seek to delegitimize Israel and to isolate it internationally. Israel has the right to defend itself. By itself, and in order for peace to be a possibility, the Palestinian Authority's unity government must recognize the State of Israel in order for a comprehensive peace solution to be reached.
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Canada is committed to strengthening its ties with Israel through a strategic agreement, reaffirming that commitment just a few months ago.
Canada continues to advocate for the resumption of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians as the only viable path to a two-state solution.
Canada's security is inextricably linked to our principled leadership and defence of our values. Free, open, and democratic societies that respect human rights and the rule of law are constructive and effective partners in the promotion of security and prosperity. As the Prime Minister has announced, Canada is poised to welcome Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the first official bilateral visit in over 40 years. This can transform the Canada-India partnership towards mutual prosperity and the security of both our countries.
My department's commitment includes broad international engagement to support human rights and the dignity of all persons, including the freedom of religion. The Office of Religious Freedom has set the global standard for advocating for religious freedom, and is establishing a global contact group to strengthen religious freedom.
Freedom of religion and conscience is under attack all over the world. The recent and tragic attacks against Jewish communities in France and Denmark only highlight the importance of continuing to denounce anti-Semitism and other forms of religious intolerance while promoting Canada's values of pluralism and tolerance.
The 2015-16 estimates before you will place the department on sound footing to deepen and widen Canada's horizons. Our department is committed to being fully integrated and aligned in order to advance Canada's interests and values. The men and women who serve in our foreign service abroad must feel confident that they have the tools, knowledge base, and responsibility they need to assure our future prosperity as a country, to keep Canadians safe at home and abroad, and to promote freedom and democracy overseas.
We will continue to build and leverage our relationships based on shared values that also advance prosperity, security, democracy, and the rule of law in the world.
I look forward to discussing these issues further with you.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
View Dean Allison Profile
Thank you very much, Minister.
We're now going to turn it over to Christian Paradis, Minister for International Development and Minister for La Francophonie.
View Christian Paradis Profile
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and colleagues. It's a pleasure to be here today.
I'm proud of the development work undertaken by our department, and I'd like to tell you about some elements of that effort that are particularly important to me.
With no surprise, you all know that saving the lives of mothers and children remains Canada's top international development priority. In 2010, Prime Minister Harper drew the world's attention to the plight of women and children. Our contribution to the Muskoka initiative has led to some impressive results on maternal, newborn, and child health. For example, with Canada's support, the micronutrient initiative programs have ensured that an average of more than 180 million children receive two doses of vitamin A each year, a key nutritional element important for healthy development, immunity, and eyesight. As well, Canada's support for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, contributed to the immunization of an additional 145 million children between 2010 and 2013, preventing two million deaths.
At the Francophonie summit, the Prime Minister announced an enormously important contribution that will help with the immunization of an additional 300 million children, with the aim of saving up to six million lives.
By working with our partners, Canada has increased access to water and sanitation for more than 860,000 people, 80% of whom are women and children. We should all be proud of the difference we have made in the lives of the most vulnerable around the world.
It is also very clear to everyone that official development assistance, or ODA, is not enough to reach our objectives. We are seeing new opportunities for the public and private sectors to work together to mobilize investment, reduce poverty and promote prosperity.
Emerging economies are increasingly seeking private investment to create jobs, spur sustainable growth and generate revenue to pay for public services. Donors like our department can play a critical role in reducing barriers to private investments. But we do not possess all of the required resources or expertise. Canada has already seen great success with this model, and has helped mobilize more private investment in emerging and developing economies.
Canada is also looking to expand our own development finance toolkit to promote more of these opportunities in the future. For example, we are playing a leadership role in the Redesigning Development Finance Initiative of the World Economic Forum and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, to combine the skills, knowledge and resources of public and private investors to expand opportunities in emerging and frontier markets.
Canada is also exploring the merits of new mechanisms to provide financial solutions for viable business ventures with a high-development impact.
Going forward, development will increasingly be about leveraging new resources to solve fundamental challenges facing people living in poverty. Another way that Canada can address those challenges is to leverage our roles in key international institutions.
For me, La Francophonie has been a very important venue to promote development goals, as well as Canadian foreign policy priorities. Canada is proud of its recent accomplishments within La Francophonie. Canada's role and achievement in 2014 made that year particularly significant.
At the Dakar summit in Senegal last November, Canada's former Governor General Michaëlle Jean was named Secretary General of La Francophonie. We are confident that Ms. Jean will bring La Francophonie into the 21st century and advance its values and missions to build a more just, prosperous and peaceful world.
Moreover, Canada left its mark on the documents adopted at the Dakar summit, from the Dakar declaration, with its references to combatting the Ebola virus and child, early and forced marriage; to the Resolution on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health; and the economic strategy—all of which are key to the future of La Francophonie.
Canada plans to continue exercising its leadership on a number of major issues and playing an active role in the development of La Francophonie. Canadians can be proud of this kind of leadership in driving positive change.
Canada and Canadians can be proud of how Canada has answered the call to help those in need. In 2013-14 Canada responded with its largest contribution ever to humanitarian assistance, providing its partners with $857 million to respond to the unprecedented amount of humanitarian need. This represents a 62% increase over the previous year and included funding for such troubled areas as Iraq, Syria, the Philippines, Ukraine, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan. Of course, committee members will also recall Canada's leadership and our timely and effective response to the Ebola crisis affecting portions of West Africa.
Mr. Chair, I feel it's important, given the timing of this appearance, to reassure committee members that with respect to Canada's mission to combat the threat of ISIL, my department is indeed committed to continuing efforts to assist those directly affected. Canada has been at the forefront of the international response to the crisis in Iraq, as well as in Syria and the surrounding area, since the beginning of each crisis. We will remain at the forefront.
Those are only a few elements of the work undertaken by our department on behalf of Canadians.
Thank you very much.
View Dean Allison Profile
Thank you, Minister Paradis.
Now we're going to turn it over to Minister Lynne Yelich, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Consular.
View Lynne Yelich Profile
Thank you.
As Canada's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Consular, I am pleased to join Ministers Nicholson and Paradis today to provide an update to the standing committee on the past year.
We have 179 missions abroad, 260 points of service, and more than 9,700 Canadian and locally engaged staff around the world and at headquarters. Our government stands ready to provide the best possible consular assistance to all Canadians abroad. The mission network is a vital part of our government's role in providing support to Canadians abroad requiring emergency assistance.
We are also engaged in a wide range of bilateral and multilateral relationships that can be leveraged in pursuit of international policy objectives. We've already heard from both ministers that our government is actively pursuing Canada's interests in a dynamic global environment. I'm honoured that my role as minister of state allows me to support these global priorities. I've had the honour to support Minister Fast through the promotion of our global markets action plan, and I'm working hard to help advance Canada's international trade objectives and the creation of jobs at home.
On the development side, I've had a number of opportunities to support Minister Paradis' efforts to advance global issues. These efforts are related to maternal, newborn, and child health, as well as providing education for children and youth in Afghanistan, and improving economic development among Afghan women.
As minister responsible for consular affairs, I would like to share with you some of the hard work that we are undertaking at consular affairs. First, let me highlight that Canadians are a travelling bunch. Canadians have made more than 61 million visits abroad, including over 14 million visits to countries other than the United States, and it's estimated that another 2.8 million Canadians reside outside of Canada. To respond to this demand our Prime Minister created the first ever minister for consular affairs. The creation of my role demonstrates the importance that our government places on assisting Canadians when they choose to leave our borders.
While most trips go off without a hitch, when Canadians find themselves in distress and need to reach us, Canada's team of dedicated consular officials is there to provide assistance. Our government created an emergency watch and response centre to respond to the growing number of international crises and requests for consular assistance. The centre works 24-7, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
I must stress, however, that it is first and foremost the responsibility of the traveller to make an informed travel decision. It is extremely important that before going anywhere, Canadians read up on the country they are visiting. Through we provide timely advice on everything needed to make smart travel choices. We also provide guidance on important issues that Canadians seem to forget in the excitement of their well-deserved vacation.
For example, we've been emphasizing the importance of obtaining travel health insurance before you travel. We recently launched a fact sheet full of important travel insurance tips, called “Say Yes to Travel Insurance!”, which is available in downloadable formats on the website. It is amazing how many Canadians don't think they need travel health insurance and are unpleasantly surprised when they're hit with a hefty medical bill when they become ill.
In 2014 the EWRC responded to approximately 15 major emergencies worldwide and managed over 2,500 emergency consular files. To deal with these situations our government created the standing rapid deployment team. This group of highly trained employees, who are deployed to work alongside Canada's missions abroad, help provide critical services to Canadians during emergencies. For example, in 2014 the SRDT was deployed to help respond to Kiev in February, and to Gaza for the assisted departure of Canadians in July.
The nature of international travel is changing and so too is our approach to consular services. In August of 2014 I unveiled the 21st century consular plan. That's our government's platform to modernize Canada's approach to consular services so that we can focus our attention on helping those who truly need it most, offer assistance more efficiently, and better educate Canadians on how to make smart travel decisions with the goal of reducing consular issues before they arise.
The plan has been oriented around four key initiatives. First is a focus on children. The vulnerable children’s consular unit was created in the fall of 2013 to bring together policy and case management expertise. The unit improves our ability to respond to consular issues involving Canadian children. Through the creation of this unit, Canada is taking a leading role in finding new ways to assist in cases of international children abduction, including abduction prevention, as well as taking a leading role on emerging issues such as child, early, and forced marriage.
Our second initiative is targeted outreach. Many Canadians are unprepared for the realities of international travel and may have an unrealistic expectation of the services our government offers abroad. Innovative partnerships and technologies are being leveraged on an ongoing basis to reach out to Canadians, along with more traditional public awareness campaigns, such as the one on the need to purchase travel health insurance.
Our third initiative is going digital. This initiative will improve online resources for a routine service request so that Canadians can better rely on current technology. As well, we are enhancing the Travel Smart app so that travellers can readily access essential information on the go.
The last key initiative is strengthening our response network. With Canadians travelling to more remote areas, having the right people in the right places will allow citizens to get help when they need it. We are doing this by implementing regional delivery models, enhancing Canada's standing rapid deployment team response capability, and building on partnerships with other foreign offices. We want to empower travelling Canadians to help themselves in order to reduce the number of routine demands on missions. This will allow us to focus resources on complex consular cases.
Dear colleagues, allow me to remind you as always that the Privacy Act limits how much information we can give publicly on any individual case.
Thank you.
View Dean Allison Profile
Thank you very much, Minister Yelich.
We'll proceed in our customary fashion and start with Mr. Dewar from the NDP.
You have the floor for seven minutes, sir.
View Paul Dewar Profile
View Paul Dewar Profile
2015-04-02 12:39
My question is directed to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. I say that because, with respect, I want to make sure that he understands the need for him to answer this question and not his colleague.
We know Mohamed Fahmy is stuck in legal limbo in Egypt. He's free but not free. Right now he's obviously not in jail, but he's not able to come back home as the minister knows. He surrendered his Egyptian passport because he was asked to do that so he could be deported to Canada, but now the Egyptian authorities have lost his Canadian passport. That is now established; there's no question about it. I have all the documents here, and I'm sure the minister has access to them as well.
The passport is the standard basis of identification in Egypt, and Mr. Fahmy needs a passport. It's not just to travel within Egypt—which he's allowed to do—or to rent a car, or even to get an apartment, but also to marry. He's been trying to get married to his financée and he needs a passport to apply to do that. The government took three months to send Mr. Fahmy a letter rejecting his application for a new passport even though the Egyptian prosecutor and the police say his old one is lost, which is one of the issues, they claim.
We know that the passport order in the legislation gives the government authority to grant a passport in this case. So this is a very straightforward question for the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Mr. Fahmy is a Canadian citizen, as you know. He's entitled to a passport. Why haven't you granted him one—or will you?
View Rob Nicholson Profile
Mr. Chairman, as you know, Canada has continued to call for Mr. Fahmy's immediate and full release. The prospect of his continuing to stand trial is unacceptable. So we advocate for Mr. Fahmy to receive the same treatment that other foreign nationals receive.
That being said, my colleague, who has direct responsibility for this, may want to make an additional comment, but my understanding is that when Mr. Fahmy is able to travel, the proper documents will be available to him.
That being said, we have raised this matter at the highest levels with the Egyptian government, and we'll continue to focus on it as well.
View Paul Dewar Profile
View Paul Dewar Profile
2015-04-02 12:41
Thank you, Minister. I mean no disrespect to Ms. Yelich, because we've already talked about this. There have been questions in the House, and I've heard the government's response.
But I need to ask the Minister of Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that, under the passport order, right now he has the authority under the act—as the government does, the Governor in Council—to issue a passport to Mr. Fahmy today. Is he aware that he has the power to do that—yes, or no?
View Rob Nicholson Profile
Mr. Chair, we have indicated that we are on top of this file, and we'll continue to make it a priority.
As my colleague has already indicated, I believe, on two successive days in question period in the House of Commons, travel documents will be made available when Mr. Fahmy has the—
View Paul Dewar Profile
View Paul Dewar Profile
2015-04-02 12:42
That's not the question.
View Paul Dewar Profile
View Paul Dewar Profile
2015-04-02 12:42
That's not the question.
Mr. Chair—
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