THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL TRADE
OTTAWA, Tuesday, April 9, 2019
The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade met this day at 4 p.m. to study foreign relations and international trade generally.
Senator A. Raynell Andreychuk (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators, welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. I’m very pleased to be able to say that we have Minister Chrystia Freeland in front of us. We have asked her to come and speak to the varied issues facing Canada today inside her portfolio in management. We understand there are other issues that are shared with other ministers, but today we particularly wanted the Minister of Foreign Affairs to come, along with her officials, to talk about issues that confront Canadians, the government, and particularly this committee. She has the oversight role and may be facing, very shortly, some of the political issues, if I may call them the fallout, of actions by other countries that may, in fact, have an impact on us.
For example, we’re watching closely Brexit and the development of CETA and Europe. We’re watching very closely the negotiations that are continuing with respect to what I call “the new NAFTA,” because that seems to be the way the public understands it; and, of course, the developments in China and Asia-Pacific, among many others, Venezuela being very important. We have heard from officials, and we are presently writing a report on our assessment of Venezuela at this time.
Very quickly, I’m going to ask the senators to introduce themselves.
Senator Housakos: Leo Housakos, Quebec.
Senator Greene: Stephen Greene, Nova Scotia.
Senator Ngo: Thanh Hai Ngo from Ontario.
Senator Busson: Bev Busson, British Columbia.
Senator Coyle: Mary Coyle from Nova Scotia.
Senator Bovey: Patricia Bovey, Manitoba.
Senator Massicotte: Paul Massicotte from Quebec.
Senator Boehm: Senator Peter Boehm, Ontario.
Senator Dean: Tony Dean, Ontario.
The Chair: And I’m Raynell Andreychuk from Saskatchewan.
I also want to welcome to the committee His Excellency Andriy Shevchenko, Ambassador of Ukraine to Canada, who wished to come to the meeting. We’re very pleased that he and his officials have come. Perhaps we will touch on issues of Ukraine. It is up to the committee members and to you, minister, as to what areas we can cover.
We have technical difficulties. The House of Commons had to cancel on us because of votes over on your side, and we may have the same problem here. We have been given assurance by our table officers that we can continue until five o’clock. However, there will be interruptions. If you see some members leaving, you’ll understand. It’s the usual business in the Senate, in Parliament, as you well know.
Minister, welcome to the committee. Ambassador, welcome to the committee. We hope we can have an opening statement on the issues you want to bring to our attention. But please leave time. Last time we had to quit because of a vote. Senators were very disappointed that they didn’t get to ask the questions that are near and dear to them. I have no idea what those questions are, by the way. They will cover what they feel is important. Your presence here is extremely important to the work of the Senate, and we appreciate that you’ve made yourself available on such a snowy day. It’s not easy to get around Ottawa today, so thank you for that.
Minister, the floor is yours. You can introduce the officials who are with you if you wish.
Hon. Chrystia Freeland, P.C., M.P., Minister of Foreign Affairs: Thank you very much, Madam Chair. It’s really a pleasure and honour for me to be here speaking with you.
Let me briefly introduce the officials who are here with me and then I’ll make some opening remarks. Then I’m happy to try to answer your questions.
With me is the man who needs no introduction, really, Steve Verheul, our chief NAFTA negotiator.
Thank you very much, Steve, for everything you do for Canada.
Next to Steve is Heather Jeffrey. She’s in charge of consular security and emergency management and has been handling some very difficult situations for Canadians abroad with real tact, skill and efficiency.
Thank you very much for that, Heather.
Then I’m really happy to be joined by Mark Gwozdecky, who is our Assistant Deputy Minister for International Security. I’m also very sad because Mark is retiring shortly, after 37 years of service. I have gotten to know him particularly as he, working closely with Senator Boehm, brilliantly steered us through our G7 leadership last year. He was with me just recently in France. Those of you who are former diplomats will know that one of the best marks of the quality of a diplomat is how other diplomats treat them. When I see the respect with which officials from other countries treat and approach Mark and seek his advice, particularly when the situation gets the trickiest, it makes me very proud to be Canadian.
Thank you very much, Mark. I’m very grateful to you.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.
Ms. Freeland: I’m also trying to make Mark feel really guilty and stay on a bit longer. So if senators would like to help me in that effort, you are very welcome to do so.
I would like to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.
Madam Chair, honourable senators, thank you for inviting me to appear before the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade to discuss the government’s foreign policy priorities and the important work we are doing to address the challenges facing Canada and the world.
Seventy years ago, the international community came together to create a system of laws, norms and institutions. This system was open to all. Today, this rules-based international order is under greater threat than it has been since it was first created. Many people are worried about what these challenges mean for our institutions, our relationships and the well-being of our people. Canada is too.
Last week, I represented Canada at meetings of ministers of foreign affairs of two of the most important multilateral institutions Canada belongs to: NATO and the G7.
Last week, we marked the 77th anniversary of the foundation of NATO and the transatlantic alliance, which was an important and historic event. At the G7 meeting, we talked about how we can do more to work together to defend that order and protect liberal democracies from the threat of internal interference and misinformation and the rise of authoritarianism abroad.
Around the world, we are witnessing a growing trend: leaders are challenging the value of the rules-based international order and want their countries to partially or entirely withdraw from the international order.
I’d like to especially commend our G7 partners — Germany, France and Japan — with whom I’ve continued discussions, including in France last week about how an alliance of countries committed to multilateralism can work together.
We agree that the greatest challenges of our time — like climate change, income inequality, managing the power of global technology platforms, maintaining rules-based global trade and mass migration — are truly international challenges. No one country can solve them. They can only be solved when we work together.
Canada is proud to be among the strongest defenders of this notion of the crucial importance of multilateralism today and to be working closely with our closest allies on it. Words aren’t enough. We know that in order to walk the walk in supporting the rules-based international order, we need to show people how essential these institutions are in our daily lives.
Allow me briefly to turn to some key areas in which Canada is working concretely to defend the rules-based international order and to ensure it is fit for purpose in the 21st century.
First, trade. Rules-based trade doesn’t guarantee peace between nations, nor does it make the multilateral system perfect or infallible, but it sure helps. That’s why fighting together for free and fair trade is essential.
Last fall, Canada concluded negotiations on the new NAFTA with the U.S. and Mexico. We went on to sign the agreement on the margins of the G20 summit in Argentina. Throughout our intense negotiations, we stayed focused on what matters to Canadians — jobs, growth and expanding the middle class. We insisted that we would not settle for just any deal. We held out for a good deal, and that’s what we got.
Most important, Madam Chair, we preserved access for Canadians to Canada’s largest export market — the United States.
We insisted that we wanted a good deal, not just any deal. We fought hard for that deal and everything that we got. Most importantly, Madam Chair, we maintained Canadian businesses’ access to our largest market.
Canada also succeeded in preserving key elements of NAFTA, including Chapter 19, and the cultural exemption. We are closely following the domestic ratification processes in the United States and Mexico. I’ve spoken with Ambassador Lighthizer many times on this issue and met with him less than two weeks ago as well as with senior congressional leaders from both the Democratic and Republican parties. I’m also in close touch with Mexico’s Secretary of Economy.
I would be remiss if I did not mention one major trade issue that remains between our two countries, and that is the illegal and unjustified Section 232 tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.
Madam Chair, I assure you and all members of the committee that Canada is fighting hard for these tariffs to be lifted. We are pleased to see that members of congress from both political parties as well as key U.S. business, trade, agricultural and labour groups continue to call on the U.S. administration to do the right thing, the logical thing, the mutually beneficial thing, which is to lift these damaging tariffs.
Defending the rules-based international order means speaking up when its rules are violated. Last month we marked the sad fifth anniversary of Russia’s illegal invasion and annexation of Crimea.
Since the beginning of the occupation, Russian agents have committed serious human rights violations in Crimea, including arbitrary arrests, acts of torture, detentions and forced disappearances, and they have mistreated the Crimean Tatar population and destroyed their historic sites. When Russia invaded, our government announced a number of measures to support the Ukrainian people, its sovereignty and its territorial integrity. We appointed an eminent Canadian statesman, Lloyd Axworthy, to lead our election observation mission.
This is work you, Madam Chair, understand very well, having led the mission in 2014.
In addition to supporting election observers, Canada is contributing financially to the fight against misinformation campaigns organized by bad actors.
On March 15, Canada, in close coordination with the EU and the U.S., announced new sanctions against 129 individuals and entities in response to Russia’s aggressive actions in the Black Sea and Kerch Strait and its illegal annexation of Crimea.
Last month I was very pleased to announce a two-year extension of our training mission to the Ukraine — Operation UNIFIER. The Canadian Armed Forces already helped to train more than 10,000 Ukranian soldiers. Despite the continued Russian aggression in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine and the Kerch Strait, the government and people of Ukraine have demonstrated a firm commitment to democracy and reform. We commend them in their ongoing efforts to implement a broad reform agenda on their path to NATO membership.
That is why Canada will be hosting the third annual Ukraine Reform Conference this year in Toronto from July 2 to 4. This will come after the second round of the presidential elections, and it will be a very important moment for the international community to rally around the new democratically elected President of Ukraine, whoever that is, and to support Ukraine in its continued reforms.
Next Monday I will be in Santiago, Chile, to address another important issue with Canada’s Lima Group partners. For the past two years, the world has watched with great concern as Venezuela, under Maduro’s dictatorial rule, descended into chaos. Millions have fled the country and millions more are suffering as a result of severe shortages of food, medicine and basic necessities. Together with more than 50 countries, Canada has recognized Juan Guaido as interim president.
In February Canada hosted the Lima Group partners from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Saint Lucia here. We were joined by partners from other countries including Ecuador, the European Union, France, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, the U.K. and the U.S.
Canada and its Lima Group partners want one thing for Venezuela — a peaceful transition to democracy, with free and fair elections, a return of political accountability and transparency and respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Venezuelans.
Part of defending the rules-based international order means standing up in defence of those who suffer when the strong prey on the weak. Last fall the House of Commons recognized that the violence against the Rohingya, perpetrated by Myanmar’s security forces, constitutes genocide. This violence, including sexual violence, has forced nearly 740,000 Rohingya to flee their country into neighbouring Bangladesh.
Canada played a lead role in the response to this crisis. We committed $300 billion over three years for humanitarian aid, development, peace and stabilization initiatives. Canada will continue to work with its allies and partners, including Bangladesh, to end the crisis and enable victims of genocide to obtain justice.
We are working with like-minded partners to develop an accountability mechanism to ensure that those responsible for these atrocities face justice.
Madam Chair, Canada cannot be silent when human rights abuses occur. I’d like to end on a difficult but important note. I am sure that members of this committee, like all Canadians, are very concerned by the arbitrary detentions of Canadians in China. I want to underline that this is a priority for the Prime Minister, our government and for me personally.
We continue to call for the immediate release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. In the case of Canadian Robert Schellenberg, Canada asks for clemency. We oppose the death penalty in all cases everywhere. I have spoken to the families of these Canadians, and they have my deep personal sympathy and support. They are working so hard for their brothers, sons and husbands, and they’re doing so with tremendous grace.
More than 140 members of civil society, including scholars and former diplomats, have publicly voiced their concerns about the detentions and their support for Canada.
A remarkable number of countries — the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Australia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Denmark, Spain, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic as well as the EU and NATO’s Secretary General — have spoken out in support of Canada in this case. These detentions were discussed at the NATO ministerial plenary meeting in Washington last week and at the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting.
We are very grateful to all of these allies for their support, and we will continue to raise these cases with our allies and partners as well as with the Chinese government. Canada is a country governed by the rule of law. We are strong supporters of the rules-based international order and the multilateral institutions that underpin it. I’m happy to take your questions.
The Chair: Thank you. I’m hearing the bells, and the lights are flashing, so there will be some conflicts for this committee. If we all cooperate, I think we can get all of the questioners in.
Senator Housakos: Thank you, minister, for being with us here today. On March 11, the OECD Working Group on Bribery expressed concerns about the recent allegations of interference in the prosecution of the SNC-Lavalin that are subject to proceedings in the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
The working group noted its encouragement that a parliamentary enquiry had been initiated. However, minister, only a few days later, your government shut down that enquiry.
Given the failure of the house to provide impartial review of this matter and that the OECD was looking forward to a very thorough review, and given the importance of our international reputation that our partners hold very dear, what steps have you taken in order to remedy the situation? We have a circumstance where, for the first time, Canada has lost its high ground when it comes to saying that we are the country that believes firmly in the rule of law. How do we deal with our friends, allies and trading partners, like the Chinese, that right now question that moral high ground that Canada used to maintain? What steps have we taken to reassure organizations like the OECD that Canada still is a country of the rule of law?
Ms. Freeland: Well, I’m going to speak first specifically to the question about the OECD, and then more generally about Canada as a country that is a very strong supporter of the rules-based international order and a country where we absolutely follow the rule of law.
On the work of the OECD working group, I have spoken directly and personally with the chair of that working group. I have given him my personal assurance that our government and I support the work of the OECD working group, and we will do everything to cooperate with it.
I have also instructed my officials to do exactly that. We are proud to be a member of the OECD, and it is very important for us to cooperate with it.
Having said that, I do think that it is very important for all of us, as Canadian legislators and as representatives of our country, not to give credence in any way to the notion that Canada is on par with dictatorial countries when it comes to democracy and the rule of law in our own country. Canada absolutely can and does hold its head high in multilateral organizations. We are one of the world’s leading liberal democracies and all Canadians can and should be proud of that.
Having debate inside a democracy is not, as some opponents of democracy would have it, a sign of weakness. It doesn’t mean our democracies are flawed. Quite the contrary: the fact that we have lively debates inside Canada is proof of the robustness of our democracy and it’s important for all of us to be extremely clear about that when facing and talking to and with the dictatorships of the world.
Senator Greene: Thank you for being here. It’s wonderful to see you again.
In the context of our currently troubled relationship with China, I take note of the fact that our relationship with Taiwan is very strong, and one of the reasons for that is it is a place where their values and our values coincide a lot, including with regard to the rule of law.
I’m just wondering if there are currently discussions within Global Affairs to give some support to Taiwan in its bid to become part of the international community, such as supporting their attendance at the World Health Assembly in May.
Ms. Freeland: Thank you, senator, for the question. Let me start by commenting a little bit more on the relationship with China. I mentioned the arbitrary detentions of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor very intentionally. This is a case that must remain a priority for Canada and it is something we need to continue to talk about in our work with our international partners. They are raising it, I believe, at every occasion with China, and we need to continue to raise it with the Chinese, as we are.
I think when it comes to China, it’s also important for us to remember that our relationship with China is long-standing, it is deep and it is multifaceted. China is, after all, Canada’s second-largest trading partner and China is the world’s second-largest economy. It is important for us to bear in mind the role that China plays in the global economy and in global trade, and that is something that we also very much do.
I think it’s also important when we talk about our relationship with China to remember the very deep personal connections that many Canadians have with China. As a Ukrainian Canadian myself, I’m very aware of the value that human connections can have in our relationships with countries around the world and I think that also very much applies to our relationship with China.
On the question of Taiwan, we continue to have strong and growing people-to-people ties with Taiwan within the framework of Canada’s One China policy. Those ties also very much include a very strong human connection.
We are absolutely committed to expanding those ties based, as you pointed out, senator, on our shared values and our large diaspora community here in Canada. We continue to support Taiwan’s meaningful participation in international multilateral fora, where its presence provides important contributions to the global public good.
Senator Bovey: Thank you, minister, for being with us again. I want to take us to Brexit, if I may. I don’t think any of us has a crystal ball as to what’s going to happen and exactly when, but I wonder if you could enlighten us as to what advice Canada is giving to enterprises wanting to further develop links with Britain and, indeed, to our graduate students who want to go over and study there and/or on the continent. Of course, that ties into international research collaborations, which I fear may be in peril as a result of Brexit. Can you enlighten us on those potential outcomes for Canadians?
Ms. Freeland: Thank you, Senator Bovey. That is a great question and something we’re working on a lot and are very focused on.
Canada, of course, currently has a close trade agreement with the U.K. through CETA. It has entered into force and applies to the U.K. The U.K. is currently a member of the EU 28, so it is a party to our CETA trading relationship.
Our department, both on the international treaty side of things and on the trade side of things, has been very assiduous in working out a transition of all of our treaties, including CETA, from ones that include the U.K. as a member of the EU to a post-Brexit Britain.
However, I think it would be fair to say we are negotiating with a target which is both moving and is, quite understandably, focused on serious challenges at home. There is tremendous goodwill both in Canada and in Britain to retain the closest possible ties no matter how Britain chooses to navigate this particular process and no matter where Britain ends up.
I think it’s also important to stress that our ties with the European Union are extremely close — I can’t think of a time when they have been closer — and it’s a priority for us to retain those very close ties as well. I sometimes feel when it comes to Brexit as if Canada is in a situation where we have two really good friends who are married and they’re going through some difficulties. They seem not quite to have yet decided where they’re going to end up as they work through those difficulties, but what we say to both the EU and to Britain — and this is warmly received — is that we are going to remain the best of friends with both of them no matter what the outcome.
It’s also worth mentioning that I had a chance to spend quite a lot of time with Jeremy Hunt, the British Foreign Secretary, when I was in France. In fact, we jointly launched a very important British-Canadian initiative, which is a media freedom conference being co-chaired by the U.K. and Canada. It will be held in Britain in July, in London, and Canada has committed to hosting the second annual media freedom conference in Canada next year. That’s just one sign of how closely we’re working together based on our shared values and a commitment we have to continue to work closely together. I was also able to have a really good meeting with Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. I should finally say, it is my very able colleague Jim Carr who is responsible for the trade side of things. I know he, Steve, and their teams have been working very, very hard on this.
Senator Massicotte: Thank you for being with us, Madam Minister, and for your important contribution to our interests around the world. I would like to talk about our relationship with China. I look at what’s going on between Canada and the United States, and when there was conflict with the Americans, we realized we should be doing more trade diversification. We realized it wasn’t a good idea to be tied to a single partner. We set our sights on China. Despite our very close ties to China, we have learned a few things in the past six months to suggest that it may not be the ideal partner. China acts in a way that our rules and values don’t allow us to act. What does that mean for our international strategy? We do business with the world. Canada has more free trade agreements than any other country. We have a solid platform, but how are we handling all these changes, these major challenges at the international level? The Americans are our partners, but they are not always our best friends. China scares us a little. Europe is still great, but doesn’t mesh too well with the Americans. What strategy do you envision in response to all these changes and challenges?
Ms. Freeland: I have two answers to that. First, I believe Canadians have a lot of experience with negotiations, especially when it comes to international trade. We’re not a small country; we’re a medium-sized country, but our officials all know how to optimize our position. That is very important and useful to Canada.
Second, I completely agree with you. The rules-based international order is under threat at this point. Some people believe it would be best for the most powerful countries to control other countries or maybe negotiate with them and let others live with their decisions. I don’t think that would produce good results for Canada. That’s why we’re trying to organize multilateral coalitions around a number of issues. Canada can do a lot, but it can do a lot more with its allies and partners. Some of those multilateral coalitions are the Lima Group and the TPP. That’s a partnership we created without the United States to pursue our free trade negotiations. That was a very important decision. The Paris Agreement is another big one. Other countries even came together to support us when Canadians were detained in China. I mentioned a multilateral alliance, an initiative we’re working on very closely with Germany, France and Japan. We discussed it with France again. Those are some of the countries that understand multilateralism and believe that a rules-based international order is the best way to defend our interests. That is how we will succeed in building something together. There you have it.
Senator Boehm: Thank you for joining us today. You have recently been on the record speaking about electoral interference to undermine democracy from various country actors across the world. It’s been a subject of discussion over the past year among the G7, G7 leaders and foreign ministers. There was a mechanism created — which I believe Canada was to chair — to have the G7 countries stay in touch with each other as information comes in, whether it’s regarding an electoral process or not.
Is this mechanism working? Are all of the G7 countries participating? Is there an idea to include a few more to turn this into a much broader alliance, so people and governments can be in touch on this important matter?
Ms. Freeland: Thank you for the question, senator. I hope you won’t blush when I point out to your colleagues that we are talking about the Rapid Response Mechanism which Canada launched at the G7 last year. Your colleague may have played quite a considerable part in its creation. It was a really good idea. One of the things that was really exciting for me, and I think Mark will agree, was to see the extent to which this is really being taken up and used by our partners.
I think all of us knew last year that we needed to get better in our own countries at responding to malign foreign interference and I think all of us understood that one way to get better is to work together. The rapid response mechanism is precisely that. We discussed it at the table at the G7 Foreign Ministers meeting and there was very strong support from all the countries to energetically be part of it and to find ways that we can make this mechanism be even more useful.
You are also right, senator, and I think this is a measure of the effectiveness of the Rapid Response Mechanism so far, that other countries, like-minded democracies who are not big enough to be in the G7, have started to talk with us about whether there is a way that they could be part of the Rapid Response Mechanism. I think that is an entirely reasonable question and something we should be looking into.
I want to say, given the issues your question touches on and the fact that Ambassador Shevchenko is here, I want to point out two things. First, we are rightly concerned in Canada about malign foreign interference in our democracy. It’s already here and we need to be and are mindful about finding ways to combat it as we move towards our own election. I think it is really commendable that Ukraine, which has faced far more pressure on its own democracy, has managed in the first round of the presidential election to conduct a truly competitive and democratic election. That brings me to my second Ukraine-related point, which is that we support Ukraine because we believe in the rules-based international order and Ukraine is one of the places where it’s being violated.
We are gaining a lot from our involvement in Ukraine. A senior U.S. official said to me that Ukraine is Russia’s laboratory for malign interference. For him and his government, being closely involved in Ukraine was actually a way to figure out what was going on and to have knowledge you could use to protect your own country. Canada is also definitely finding that to be the case.
So this is really a mutually beneficial relationship when it comes to building and safeguarding both our democracies.
Senator Ngo: Thank you, minister, for being here.
I have been receiving reports over the past years of an intensification of Chinese government pressure on immigrants in Canada — Chinese immigrants opposed to the Chinese communist regime. Tibetans, Taiwanese, the Uyghur community — these groups are often victims of Chinese state-sponsored campaigns of cyberattacks, harassing phone calls and hate propaganda. They have been followed and monitored during human rights demonstrations. Canadians are detained and bullied when they are in China.
Are you aware of this growing Chinese state-sponsored campaign aimed at targeting political, ethnic and spiritual groups considered opposed to the Chinese government? If so, what is the government doing to protect our communities and universities from China’s increasing efforts to exert its political objectives in Canada?
Ms. Freeland: Thank you for that question. Let me assure you, senator, that our government takes very seriously the particular vulnerability that diaspora communities in Canada can face when it comes to malign foreign interference. That is a very important and specific vulnerability, and it is one that applies to quite a few different ethnic communities in our amazingly diverse country.
I want to assure all Canadians, no matter their ethnic background, that the Government of Canada takes the freedom to organize, express their views and to protest extremely seriously. It’s something we are definitely watching.
That very much includes at Canadian universities. I’m the member of Parliament for University Rosedale. “University” is in the name because the University of Toronto, Ryerson and George Brown, are in my riding. It is also the case that students and student organizations can be particularly targeted.
It is very important that Canadians, whether they are Ukrainian Canadian, Chinese Canadian, Uyghur Canadian, Tibetan Canadian or Sikh Canadian, Latvian Canadian, Estonian Canadian, Vietnamese Canadian, et cetera, really must feel absolutely free to organize and to express their views in the complete liberty that Canada offers. It’s very important that they should feel fully protected and defended by our government, which they are.
Senator Dean: Thanks, minister, for all of your hard and successful work on behalf of Canadians.
You do keep coming back to threats to the rules-based international order. Indeed, you have successfully defended Canada in that area.
What do you believe are the top two or three threats in this area? What are the things that worry you most?
Ms. Freeland: Do I have to limit myself to two? That is an excellent question. I may start in a place that surprises you, given the focus of this committee and of my work. Probably the single biggest threat is at home. That is when the citizens in democracies, especially in prosperous liberal democracies that have a strong democratic past and tradition — the greatest threat is if we lose faith in ourselves, and if we ourselves lose faith in liberal democracy and in the idea that liberal democracy works.
That is why I really believe that the single most important thing we can do as a government and as a country to defend our democracy is actually ensuring that Canadians feel comfortable and secure.
That very much includes economic security, in my view. Canadians need to feel confident their children will have a better life than they do. They need to feel they can retire with dignity and comfort. Students need to feel they are going to be able to study hard and get a good job when they are done. Families with children need to feel supported.
Western liberal democracies that allow their middle class to get hollowed out are the countries — and we are already seeing this — that are vulnerable to their own democracies weakening.
I really believe, in some ways, that our domestic economic policies are going to be our single most important defence against the erosion of our liberal democracy. That’s one of the reasons why I believe so strongly that we need to support our middle classes.
The second thing — and it is related — is that we have to be really careful not to fall prey to a kind of cynicism about whether democracy really does work, and whether the rules-based order really makes a difference and whether it works. During the Soviet era, people talked about the Soviet propaganda technique, “whataboutism”, where any time any problem in the Soviet Union was pointed out by the West, the Soviet propaganda response was “What about this thing that you guys don’t do perfectly?” It’s the idea that we’re all kind of the same and all have problems, and there’s really no difference between a democracy and a dictatorship.
I really believe this strongly, and it’s an important chance to say it. It is so important for us not to give in to that kind of cynicism and to really understand there is such a clear difference between democracy and dictatorship. We have to understand, in a way, democracies are particularly vulnerable to this whataboutist attack, because we are democratic. We have debates. We have discussions like in a Senate committee where government ministers are asked questions. A dictatorship doesn’t do that freely.
So we reveal our debates, our divisions, our flaws and our scars much more than a dictatorship does. It’s part of what makes us a democracy, but we have to be so resolute not to allow that openness, transparency and willingness to debate to weaken our own appreciation of the importance of democracy.
Some Hon. Members: Hear, hear.
The Chair: We have a second round. I have some questions, but I want Senator Housakos to go first.
Regarding the vote in the chamber, we can stay here; we have the liberty to continue. It is up to senators whether they wish to go to vote on this issue or continue the debate.
Senator Housakos: I will continue, actually.
Minister, I heard you respond to Senator Dean’s question, and I have heard you on a number of occasions in the last few days be a little more unequivocal in response to that question, where you have said that White supremacy is one of the agents that you think are the biggest risks to our Western democracies. With all due respect, minister, I think that flies in the face of reality over the last two decades. Over the last two decades, Western liberal democracies around the world would tell you that the biggest threat we faced was extremist fundamentalism. In an organized, conducive way, our Western liberal values and democracies have been attacked, both in terms of terror attacks and attacks on our security, attacks on our economies, attacks on our way of life, to the point where, of course, we and our Western allies have put a considerable amount of effort and resources into fighting that in all corners of the globe for two decades. And thank God we have been winning the war and have been a huge participant. Both successive governments in this country have stood up against that terrible threat to our Western democracies. I venture to believe that that still is something we have to be very vigilant about. I can’t identify a single country in the world where governments are supporting White supremacist movements. I can’t identify democratic governments around the world that are supporting that type of behaviour, certainly not in Canada. I would find it disturbing to believe that there is a politician in this country that believes that White supremacy is a threat to our way of life in Canada, to our communities, to our democracy. So I would like for you to clarify your perspective on that, minister.
Ms. Freeland: I absolutely do think that White supremacist movements are a very real and grave threat to Western liberal democracy. I think they are a grave and real threat here in Canada, and they are a grave threat in many other countries around the world. The shootings in Christchurch were an appalling example of exactly that. The shooting in the Quebec City mosque is a tragic Canadian example of the same threat that we face here at home. So I absolutely believe we need to name that threat, we need to be aware of it and we need to work hard to find ways to protect our societies and our people from it.
I would add, senator, that, of course, Islamic extremist terrorism is and has been a great threat, and Canada and Canadian men and women in uniform have gone out and fought that threat. When there have been terrorist attacks motivated by Islamic extremism, we have a reasonable expectation that leaders of Islamic communities, that leaders of Muslim majority countries should condemn those attacks and should draw a very clear line between their beliefs and their faith and the extremist horror and violence. When it comes to white supremacism, I absolutely believe that as a minister of a white majority country, of a Christian majority country — I’m Christian myself — that there is a special responsibility to stand up and to denounce this ideology and to denounce these attacks.
As you raised the question, I want to take this opportunity to speak to Muslim Canadians and to say to them that they should feel absolutely assured that our government is committed to fighting Islamophobia. Our government is committed to ensuring that Canadians of whatever faith, be they Muslim, be they Jewish, be they Christian, be they Sikh, be they Hindu, whatever faith or be they atheist, should feel absolutely safe here in Canada. We do recognize that today there is a particular threat that Muslim Canadians face, and it is so important that they feel as protected by the government, that they feel our concern towards them is as sincere and as great as it is towards Canadians of any other faith.
To this question or this notion that white supremacy can never be a dangerous ideology, I was just in Washington at the seventieth anniversary of the foundation of NATO. Of course NATO was founded in the aftermath of the Second World War. I think the Nazis showed us what a racially supremacist ideology can do and the havoc it can wreak, in this case directed most specifically against the Jewish people.
So this is real killing today in New Zealand, in Canada, and this is real history that is close to us, and it is absolutely a threat that we need to be mindful of and our government is.
Senator Ngo: I would like to continue my question just now. Could you outline to us the specific steps that you are going to take in order to protect our community or immigrants towards the Chinese efforts to exert its political influence. Now do you think it’s time for the Government of Canada to consider taking a stronger approach with China, perhaps like the approach we take with Russia, for example?
Ms. Freeland: There are a number of questions in there, and let me try to address them one by one. Let me start with the Russia point.
Our particular approach towards Russia, when it comes to the sanctions Canada has put in place, is connected to some very specific, very serious breaches of the rules-based international order very recently. Generally, I think Canada as a liberal democracy has a preferential relationship with fellow liberal democracies, and we work together to support one another and to support the rules-based international order and the idea of liberal democracy. But there are many countries in the world that are not liberal democracies and with whom we have relationships. When it comes to Russia specifically, what broke that relationship was the invasion of Crimea and the annexation of Crimea and the continued war in the Donbass. This is a grave breach of the rules-based international order. Borders may not be altered by force.
It is the severity of that which prompted Canada’s very strong action but also the action of our like-minded countries, of the European Union, of the United States. The reason that that position has been sustained — as I said, it’s more than five years now since the invasion of an annexation of Crimea. I think some people thought the sanctions regime would not endure, that people would lose patience, that the West’s nerve would not hold. This was something that we discussed at the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting and also at the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting. I can tell you there is a very clear understanding that the invasion of a European country and the effort to change borders by force in Europe that Russia has led here — this is the first time it’s happened since the Second World War — and that is not something that can go unanswered. So Russia is in a special category and there is a very clear reason for that. It’s not the Ukrainian ambassador’s job to testify today; but I’m sure if you wanted to speak with him, he could elucidate that point further.
On the point of our relationship with China — I think I have discussed it already but let me maybe reiterate — Canada has been very clear when it comes to truly being a rule-of-law country, being a country that honours its international treaty agreements, and that is why we have honoured our extradition treaty with the United States. We have also been very clear and very strong in standing up for our arbitrarily detained Canadians. And I think we have — more effectively than some may have expected — managed to rally an international coalition of countries to publicly speak out in support of the detained Canadians.
It is no small thing that the detention of these Canadians was discussed at the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in the plenary session and it was discussed at the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting.
It is also a reality of our world today that China is the world’s second-largest economy. That is part of the shape of the 21st century, and it is also a reality. That reality, by the way, is reflected in the trade talks going on today between the U.S. and China, in the meetings going on between China and the EU.
Speaking for Canada, we have a deep and long-standing relationship with China on many different levels. It is a relationship that includes our ties between universities, that includes people-to-people ties, that includes economic ties and a trade relationship. Certainly these are very difficult times in Canada’s relationship with China, and we are very clear about that. But we’re also clear that it is a relationship which is long-standing and will endure and needs to endure.
Let me say one more thing about China and then something about Canadian students.
I really believe and understand that effective policy in the world — very much including some of the challenges that Canada faces with China — is best done in close collaboration and partnership with our allies. That was actually a question from the senator opposite, Senator Massicotte. What we are doing, because the world today demands it, is we have understood we need to find new and creative approaches to defend the national interest and to defend the rules-based international order. One of the central things we’re doing is finding alliances of like-minded countries that can work together on specific issues. That is a way for Canada to be more effective. That very much applies to working out our relationship with China.
On Canadian students, in my answer to Senator Boehm, I spoke of maligned foreign interference in our country. It can come from a lot of different directions, and we are certainly taking measures. My colleague, Minister Gould, is specifically charged with this, to protect our country against maligned foreign interference as we come up to the election.
More generally, I think it is the job of our government every day to ensure all Canadians can live, work, think, engage in politics, protest in peace and security, whatever the issue and whatever our wonderfully diverse communities they belong to. Thank you.
The Chair: Senator Massicotte, do you have a quick question?
Senator Massicotte: I’d like to respond to your comments, Madam Minister. As a small or medium-sized country in terms of our economy and our population, we are very dependent on the rules-based international order. Without that, we could become a bloc of countries or something like that.
We see what China’s doing and we know the World Trade Organization’s view. The Americans are constantly challenging the WTO’s perspective, though maybe less so now because they won their latest dispute in some ways. How do you see the situation? It seems that the most powerful countries are disinclined to abide by the WTO’s decisions. If that’s the case, we’ll be in bad shape. We recently supported holding a meeting to promote the WTO’s credibility. How do you see this playing out over the next five or 10 years? Are things going to get better or will it be total chaos?
Ms. Freeland: I don’t want to make any predictions. I agree with you that the situation is complex and we are living in complicated times. That’s one of the reasons we’re working so closely with other countries that are committed to a rules-base international order. I talked about the multiculturalism alliance we’re working on with Germany, France and Japan because those countries are in the same position as us. They too depend on a rules-based international order, and together, we’re not so small.
I don’t want to say this challenge is insignificant and everything should be fine in a week or a month. I think it’s one of the greatest challenges of our generation, one we need to work on every day. We need to seek and find new allies.
Even so, I’m optimistic. Canada is the world’s 10th-largest economy, so a rules-based international order is essential for us. That’s not up for debate; it’s a given. Even for bigger countries, it should be clear that, ultimately, a rules-based international order is in their best interest. I think that will be the case for two reasons. First, we are a rules-based country. As Canadians, we know it’s better to live in a rules-based country, and that’s the same everywhere. I do have a more pragmatic reason for being so optimistic about big countries. In this day and age, no single country can dominate. That’s why I think it’s in every country’s interest to have a rules-based international order.
All the same, we have to put our position out there. We have to find examples and demonstrate that they work. We can’t look just at how things worked in the past. We have to engage multilaterally with groups of allies to demonstrate that it is necessary and easier to work together. Here’s another great example: the Lima Group. Interestingly, our American partners support the work of the Lima Group. They’re not members, but they are very supportive of what we’re doing. I think that’s important because it shows that our neighbours understand how useful multilateralism can be.
The Chair: Minister, I believe in the rules-based order also. Your staff have twice told me that you have to leave, so I’m going to abide by their orders, not yours.
However, I do want to say a couple of things. We rarely have enough time to really probe, so we don’t have an exchange. We have a question and answer. It is not the best way to approach foreign policy. We want you back to continue the debate, so I’m putting you on forewarning on that.
I do want to correct you on Ukraine and to the east. It isn’t just one fact that changes. Remember the Baltics that we abandoned. Remember the fact that Georgia was invaded. It is an incremental thing, and then we come to a consensus that we say enough is enough.
It’s the same thing with China. It’s been incremental. We’ve overlooked, we’ve forewarned and we’ve been shocked. You’ve learned a whole new language as a minister. I read your press releases. As previous ministers have said, I never thought I would have a vocabulary of “deeply troubled,” et cetera, but there comes a point to act. The canola crisis is hitting. You said that domestic economy is extremely important. Yes, it is. I think that’s why foreign policy is no longer foreign policy. It’s very much embedded in our national policies.
I want you to consider the balances of national policy and international. It isn’t just what China does and how we respond; it’s how Canadians are affected in their day-to-day lives. Democracy is the ability to look ahead and to find out the consensus, where it can be reached and when a government needs to intervene.
I hope that we’re not saying extremism is one definition. We are being bombarded from cyberspace. We are thinking we have had allies and finding out we don’t have the same allies. Countries are changing.
I trust that every Canadian voice will be heard to you as you formulate your policies as you go forward. I don’t have the luxury and opportunity to debate with you here, but I wanted to put those thoughts in. We need to reflect on a place for Canadians.
Thank you for starting the debate. As I forewarned you, I hope there will be many opportunities that this committee can have. We will be facing some of the decisions you make, whether it is on the new NAFTA or on Brexit. We’ll be asked to move quickly. We need to know where you’re going and you need to hear us. We get an hour with you, but I hope we can have more correspondence and more opportunities in the future.
Before we close, I want to speak to Ms. Jeffrey for just a minute. I was with the delegation in Ethiopia. It was tough; really tough. But the pride that I had in the Canadian embassy was superb. Thank you.
Ms. Freeland: Can I respond to one thing Senator Andreychuk said? You were right. The invasion and actual formal annexation of Crimea is, quite rightly, a break point. We can’t forget the enormity of that fact. Indeed, we, the international community; we, the West, are not. We, the NATO alliance are not.
I strongly commend you, Senator Andreychuk, for mentioning Georgia. I wasn’t even a politician in 2008, but I felt at that time that the conflict with Georgia wasn’t a change in direction but it was the crystallization of going much further by Putin. One of the things I think we need to work on is that bad behaviour must be forcefully responded to. Otherwise, there is every incentive and message that it’s okay to keep going. Collectively, I think the West failed when it came to Georgia. Sadly, we are reaping the fruits of that in Ukraine. Thank you for mentioning that.
The Chair: I will pick up on that for the benefit of this committee. We started alerting the issue of Venezuela. I think had we as a community responded earlier, the trauma that the Venezuelan people are living in, might not have happened. It took too long for the countries that are affected in this hemisphere to respond to the Venezuelan crisis. Now, of course, we cannot ignore it. There are so many other points in the world we cannot ignore, and we make a value judgment of whether we interfere or not.
At another time, I hope we can discuss Mali, northern Africa and many other places where Canada could and should play a role, but that’s for another debate. Thank you, minister.