THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL TRADE
OTTAWA, Thursday, June 3, 2021
The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade met by videoconference this day at 11:30 a.m. [ET] to study matters relating to foreign or Commonwealth relations generally, as described in rule 12-7(4).
Senator Peter M. Boehm (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Welcome, honourable senators, witnesses, Senate staff and people who might be watching across Canada, to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
I am Peter Boehm. I’m a senator from Ontario and chair of this committee.
Before we begin, I wish to introduce committee members participating in today’s meeting: Senator Douglas Black from Alberta; Senator Gwen Boniface from Ontario; Senator Mary Coyle from Nova Scotia; Senator Marty Deacon from Ontario; Senator Stephen Greene from Nova Scotia; Senator Peter Harder, P.C., deputy chair, from Ontario; Senator Thanh Hai Ngo, deputy chair, also from Ontario; Senator Ratna Omidvar from Ontario; and Senator Mohamed-Iqbal Ravalia from Newfoundland and Labrador.
As we are conducting a virtual meeting of the committee, I’d like to remind members to please keep your microphones muted at all times unless recognized by name by the chair.
Today, after a few stops and starts brought on by public health measures, the committee is beginning a new special study on Canada’s international response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the very short time frame available to us, we would like to get a sense of how Canadian foreign and development policy may need to shift as the world moves into the global recovery phase of the pandemic response.
To kick off our study, we are honoured to receive, for the first hour of our meeting, Canada’s Minister of International Development, the Honourable Karina Gould. Welcome, minister, and thank you for making yourself available to appear before the committee.
I will also introduce the officials joining us from Global Affairs Canada: Leslie MacLean, Deputy Minister, International Development; Elissa Golberg, Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy; and Joshua Tabah, Director General, Health and Nutrition, Global Issues and Development Branch.
Welcome, everyone. I must say, it’s always great to see former colleagues.
Following the minister’s opening remarks, we will proceed to questions from senators. Minister, welcome again. The floor is yours, as is the screen.
Hon. Karina Gould, P.C., M.P., Minister of International Development: Thank you so much for the invitation. I’m delighted to speak with you, and it’s very nice to see all of you virtually. I’m sorry we’re not in person.
Thank you to the committee for inviting me to speak about how the Government of Canada is working with its international partners to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and promote the global recovery.
I had the pleasure of addressing the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade on April 29 on some of these same crucial issues.
The ever-evolving COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented situation where global cooperation on health and economic recovery has never been more important. Canada is promoting a coordinated global response to the pandemic and is committed to supporting the most marginalized and vulnerable.
For example, through its joint initiative with Jamaica and the UN on Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond, Canada is working with the international community to develop practical approaches that respond to the socio-economic and financial impacts of the pandemic.
Prime Minister Trudeau co-convened world leaders as part of the Financing for Development initiative to discuss key issues related to international debt architecture and liquidity. During this meeting, leaders of developing countries stressed that economic recovery in their countries is conditional on equitable and timely access to vaccines.
Let me turn to what the Government of Canada is actively doing to address this top priority.
We have mobilized more than $2.5 billion in international assistance in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. A significant portion of this investment has gone through international organizations and multilateral partners.
We have been a global leader in mobilizing the international health response for developing countries, and in particular, the delivery of tests, treatments and vaccines to those who need them most. Canada was at the forefront of the creation of the ACT-Accelerator project and the COVAX facility. Thus far, Canada has contributed $1.3 billion to ACT-Accelerator, including $375 million recently announced by the Prime Minister.
We are providing support to ensure that women and girls around the world can continue to have access to sexual and reproductive health and rights services despite the restrictions. We are also supporting our civil society organization, or CSO, partners to modify their activities and ensure the continuity of services and education. In the 2021 Nutrition for Growth Year of Action, we have also championed food assistance and nutrition solutions for the world’s most vulnerable.
Canada will continue to drive international collaboration through multilateral fora to ensure that efforts on preparedness and system strengthening are guided by considerations of equity to support the poorest and most vulnerable.
Canada is committed to addressing the far-reaching health, social and economic impacts of the pandemic, both at home and abroad. This approach is essential to containing the epidemic and ensuring a sustainable recovery for all.
With that, I am very happy to take your questions.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your comments, minister. I’d like to acknowledge the arrival of Senator Salma Ataullahjan of Ontario and Senator Leo Housakos of Quebec.
Colleagues, before I open the floor to questions, I remind members to use the “raise hand” button to be added to the list of questioners, which our clerk, Gaëtane Lemay, will manage.
I also wish to inform members that for this portion of the meeting, you will each have a maximum of only four minutes for the first round. This includes questions and answers, so please be concise with your preambles. The clerk will make a hand signal to indicate that the time is up.
Senator Ngo: Thank you, minister, for appearing today. I would like to address the issue of the government’s early response to the COVID pandemic. This issue is important, since it’s becoming more apparent every day that the government’s response in the early stages of the pandemic was completely inadequate.
Dr. Ronald St. John, who oversaw the emergency preparedness of the Public Health Agency of Canada for seven years, said the government did not activate its response quickly enough when the virus first emerged. This contrasts with what was done in other countries, such as Taiwan, New Zealand, Iceland, Israel, Greece and Australia.
What specific steps is the government taking to look at what other countries got right and how they got it right to ensure this failure is not repeated again?
Ms. Gould: Thank you, senator.
I take issue with your characterization of how the government responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, we reacted very swiftly. As you will recall, back in January 2021, when we did the repatriation of Canadians who were stuck in Wuhan, we implemented very strict quarantine and surveillance measures. We were one of the first countries to close our borders back in March 2021, and we took very stringent measures from the beginning. We continue to have some of the strictest measures in the world when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of course, there are always lessons to be learned, and we are always looking at other countries in terms of where they have been more or less successful and applying those lessons here in Canada. I know Dr. Tam, the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, has been very engaged with counterparts around the world to learn how other countries have reacted, what their successes have been and how we can apply those lessons here in Canada.
However, I would say that Canada has been one of the leading responders to COVID-19. There is always more to learn, though. I know that we will apply those lessons to our current experience and also into the future.
Senator Ngo: Thank you, minister.
I would like to raise issues here. According to Dr. Ronald St. John, there are four levels of response to emergencies. Level 1 is the lowest, up to Level 4, which is described as causing significant illness that has the potential for rapid spread and requires a national response.
It has been revealed that the federal government did not activate Level 2 until January 15 and did not escalate to Level 3 until the end of January, after COVID-19 arrived in Canada. Level 4 is said to have never been declared.
Can you explain why the response was so slow or sluggish?
Ms. Gould: Thank you, senator. I would have to defer to my colleague, the Minister of Health or the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, in response to those specific questions.
However, again, I take issue with that characterization because, as I said, Canada was one of the first countries to respond and has had one of the strongest responses to COVID-19. But I’m certainly happy to discuss Canada’s international response, which is the area I have most responsibility for when it comes to COVID-19.
The Chair: Thank you, minister. We’re up against the clock.
Senator D. Black: Thank you very much, minister, for being here.
The basis of my question is simply that I believe very strongly that Canada has an obligation, under your leadership, to be helpful internationally, but we cannot do that if we are constrained at home.
So building on Senator Ngo’s question, I want to come back to the fact that in January of last year, the World Health Organization declared the pandemic as a critical — “high-level” was the language they used — challenge for the world. It was seven weeks later that Canada acted. So notwithstanding your comments, minister, they do not necessarily align with the reality on the ground. It took Canada seven weeks while other countries closed their borders and even Dr. Tam — for which we are all eternally grateful to her for her service — at the end of January was saying that we are facing a pandemic and that the only way out of it is a vaccine.
There were clearly folks in the Government of Canada who understood the consequences here, yet your government delayed for seven full weeks.
Senator Ngo asked the question. We didn’t get an answer, so I’m asking it again: What was going on in the government’s mind that it took them that time to ignore the lessons of New Zealand, Taiwan, Italy, Germany and the U.K.? What was going on in your mind, minister, and those of your colleagues?
Ms. Gould: Thank you for the question.
As I stated, the government did act early based on the information we had at the time. We also responded and took appropriate measures. As you’ll recall, additional screening occurred with people who were coming from China at the time. We also did testing much earlier than other countries. We actually learned of outbreaks in other countries because of the rigorous testing that we were doing here in Canada.
I’ll just go back to your first point about Canada stepping up on the world stage. I will refer back to my opening comments: Canada has contributed $1.3 billion to the ACT-Accelerator process. We’re one of only two countries in the world that has contributed their fair share. We are responding here at home while also contributing and making an important impact on the world stage.
Senator D. Black: Thank you very much. May I have a follow-up, Mr. Chair?
The Chair: A quick one, Senator Black.
Senator D. Black: Your international work is extremely important, and we’re proud of that, minister — no doubt about that.
However, I want to swing back to where we left off. Could we have been seven weeks delayed because the Government of Canada had rolled back their pandemic early warning system? Had we not clearly declawed that organization and lost our ability to gather intelligence? Is that the reason we were so slow off the mark, minister?
Ms. Gould: Once again, I respectfully push back on Canada having a slow response.
Senator D. Black: Of course, yes.
Ms. Gould: I think we did respond, given the information we had. When it comes to GPHIN, Global Public Health Intelligence Network, I know my colleague Minister Hajdu conducted an investigation to see how that happened. Certainly, we want to ensure Canada is prepared for any health situation that comes forward, whether it be a future pandemic or otherwise. I think that not only Canada but the whole world has learned a lot from the COVID-19 pandemic, and certainly those reflections are happening both at home and on the international level.
Senator D. Black: Thank you, minister. Second round, please.
Senator M. Deacon: Thank you to you and your team for being here today. This is an important conversation.
I’m looking at moving forward with my questions as we look around the curve of COVID for Canada and the world.
My first question concerns girls in the developing world. You touched on it briefly in your intro, but we all know that, globally, girls and girls’ rights have made great strides in the last half century. Historically, it’s been women and girls who are disproportionately affected by disasters like the ones we face today. In 2014, Ebola forced the closure of West African schools. While boys returned, many girls did not.
COVID has shut down schools across a broad swathe of the world, particularly in the developing world. As a result, it has been suggested that 13 million child marriages that would have not happened in normal times may go ahead over the course of the next decade.
Minister, your supplemental mandate letter made specific mention of the disproportionate effect this pandemic has on women and girls. As the world recovers from the pandemic, how else will your department focus on the health of young girls and see to it that the gains made over the last few decades aren’t squandered or minimized as a result of COVID-19?
Ms. Gould: Senator, you’ve touched upon some really important issues; you raised the issue of the 13 million potential additional child marriages that we were going to see. The Malala Fund is also estimating there will be approximately 10 million girls who won’t return to school because of the COVID-19 school closures.
One of the most important things for me as Minister of International Development is that our response to COVID-19 be in addition to the ongoing work that we’re doing and that it not take away from that really important work when it comes to gender equality, girls’ education and girls’ access to health.
So the $1.3 billion that we have provided to the ACT-Accelerator have been additional resources to our existing ODA budget. We did not shift our priorities. From the beginning, I endeavoured to take on the lessons learned from the Ebola pandemic in terms of how it impacted women and girls. I wanted to ensure we had a two-track response, one that maintains those important investments in our ongoing development work and one that addresses the health emergency that we’re seeing. We’ve provided additional support, for example, to the GPE, to Education Cannot Wait, to Canadian partners who are working in the field specifically to address continuity of education but also a return to school, with a particular focus on girls. We’ve provided additional supports to UNFPA because they were facing a shortage of contraceptives around the world and access to those contraceptives. Also, we have provided additional support to partners who provide sexual health and reproductive services to ensure they can reach out to those individuals because we’ve seen a decline in access to services, both as a result of some governments determining that they’re non-essential as well as people not wanting to go to a clinic for fear of catching COVID-19.
We have tried very hard to maintain the existing programming but also to increase that in order to reach those who are not being reached right now.
Senator M. Deacon: May I continue?
The Chair: Quick one, please, senator.
Senator M. Deacon: Looking ahead, if we look at the gaps between the rich and the poor communities, a lot of it is being undone and the gap is becoming larger, as a result of the pandemic. I feel also, regarding recovery, many poor countries will still stay mired in the pandemic footing for a time to come. How will Canada approach development differently given that we’re probably facing a two-speed recovery between the richer and the poorer worlds —
The Chair: Senator Deacon, we’re out of time, but if you like, you can reformulate that one for round two.
Senator M. Deacon: Yes, sir. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, minister.
Senator Ravalia: Thank you, minister, for being here today. As we’ve seen recently, the pandemic has taken a frightening new turn in many parts of the developing world. Do you think it’s feasible for Canada to actually support the development of vaccine-production capacity in developing countries given our know-how and expertise? If so, are we making any strides in this regard?
Ms. Gould: Thank you, senator. It’s an excellent question and one that I am personally engaged with and working on.
Part of the support that we’re exploring is through the multilateral system, through the ACT-A. There is a hub for knowledge transfer, technology transfer, technical assistance and looking at how to leverage and expand production capabilities in the developing world. This work is currently being co-chaired by Germany and South Africa. As part of that $375 million that the Prime Minister announced for this year to support ACT-A, we’re looking at how those resources can help accelerate domestic manufacturing capacity in the developing world.
Senator Ravalia: Thank you. If I could just follow up on a slightly different direction. Will the recent shift in the United Kingdom’s development aid program impact various global COVID-19 initiatives that we are involved with? And if so, is there an opportunity to respond?
Ms. Gould: I don’t think it will impact the COVID-19 response because they have shifted quite a bit of their resources to support the ACT-A and particularly the vaccine pillar. Where I think it will have a greater impact is the cuts that they’ve made with regard to women’s health and sexual and reproductive health and rights. They’ve made quite significant reductions in global health. They’ve also made significant reductions when it comes to gender equality as well as some of their bilateral programming with regard to humanitarian assistance. The volume of the cuts or reductions they’ve made in the U.K. is quite significant, and I don’t think Canada would be able to fill those gaps, but we will certainly be ensuring and maintaining our support in those areas.
For example, my understanding is there has been quite a significant reduction to UNFPA contraceptive supplies, and UNAIDS, among a number of others. As well, I think they’ve reduced their funding for polio quite a bit. Canada is a substantial funder when it comes to global health, but there will certainly be an impact.
Senator Ravalia: Thank you, minister.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you, minister, for being with us today. We really appreciate that. I know that you and Canadians rely on the work of Canadian international charities to accomplish many of our objectives in the development field, but they tell us, and they tell you, that their work is hampered, especially with local partners, because of outdated regulations and legislation in Canada. I am referring in particular to the “own activities” test that charities are subject to under the Income Tax Act and the guidance of the CRA, which has said that direction and control must be exercised. I think you will recognize that even those two words, “direction and control,” are inconsistent with the contemporary values of equal partnership, inclusion and local decision-making.
Minister, do you and your government support moving away from these old, archaic, outdated concepts that are grounded in our legislation and our regulations to empower international charities to do the best work that they can with local partners?
Ms. Gould: Thank you, Senator Omidvar, for that question. It’s certainly an issue that I’ve heard raised many times by our partners in the CSO community here in Canada. I know that our department is engaging with them on it, as well as with the Department of Finance, which is the department that’s responsible for this legislation. I know those conversations are ongoing.
Certainly, as Minister of International Development, it’s important for me to continue to advance our localization agenda and principles of aid effectiveness, so I am very much open to hearing what those concerns are and understanding what we can do to both advance that agenda but also ensure that we are protecting Canadian taxpayer dollars and that we have sufficient oversight as to where those are going.
I know that this conversation is ongoing. I’m happy to keep pushing it along and pushing it forward, but the responsibility does lie with the Minister of Finance.
Senator Omidvar: Do I have time for a supplementary?
The Chair: A quick one, please.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you, minister. Minister, I want to point out that we are outliers in comparison with other similar jurisdictions. The U.S., the U.K. and Australia all have legislation that permits for the kind of local partnerships our charities are calling for.
My question to you is whether you are concerned about the inability of Canadian charities to participate in large, pooled funds that are put together by other international charities because of direction and control requirements?
Ms. Gould: As I said, senator, I am very much open to having this conversation and we’ve been having it, in fact. I know that the department, particularly led by the ADM of Partnerships for Development Innovation, Caroline Leclerc, has been very actively engaged with our CSO partners on this and has also been engaged with the Department of Finance, so we will continue to follow up on this issue.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you, minister.
Senator Coyle: Welcome, Minister Gould. It’s wonderful to see you. I know you have been a very busy person, as has everyone in your department and, frankly, the whole of government.
My first question is regarding vaccines. I just want to understand what the strategy, in some detail if you could, will be. Canada has been quite successful at procuring vaccines and that’s a wonderful thing. As a Canadian citizen, I’m thrilled about that. However, we know we will have acquired more than we need. I would like to understand from you when and what will trigger the sharing of those vaccines, through which mechanisms, et cetera. If you could speak a little bit more about that because we know that the developing world in particular is desperate for vaccines at this time. Thank you.
Ms. Gould: Absolutely. If you permit me, I will acknowledge how unbelievably hard my department has been working over the past year. I don’t think they sleep very much. We have a relatively small global health team led by Josh Tabah, who is with us, and they have done an extraordinary job in mobilizing Canada’s international response. Thank you for that acknowledgment.
When it comes to vaccines, there’s a two-prong strategy. The first one was Canada’s support for COVAX. We were one of the first — I think, actually, the first — to make a contribution to COVAX at about this time last year with an initial $25 million contribution to get the mechanism up and running. We have since, as of yesterday morning, contributed $545 million to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment, which will help Gavi purchase vaccines for low- and lower-middle-income countries, of which 77 million have been delivered to about 127 countries. There is the actual purchasing of vaccines that Canada is helping to finance to reach COVAX’s objective of vaccinating 20% of the vulnerable populations of countries right around the world, including low- and lower-middle-income countries.
As you noted, there are also plans to donate excess vaccines that Canada will hopefully have. We don’t have those vaccines yet. We are still vaccinating Canada’s population and we have ambitious targets to have everyone who wants to be fully vaccinated done by September. Once we have excess vaccines, the plan is to donate those excess vaccines through the COVAX facility — recognizing that COVAX is, first of all, an organization that we help set up — which is the best multilateral initiative to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines around the world. As the Prime Minister committed to last December should and once we have excess vaccines, we will be donating them. We’re not quite at the point to announce that yet, but when we do, they will be going through the COVAX facility.
Senator Coyle: Minister Gould, we have seen the cracks in Canada that have developed — well, that were there and we’re now seeing them in great relief in ways we never saw them before. COVID-19 bringing these to light. We’re seeing similar things around the world. What are you doing strategically within your group in Global Affairs, in analyzing those cracks that are emerging or are being accentuated around the world, and what might be done to adjust our strategies and approaches to international assistance?
Ms. Gould: It’s an excellent question. As you mentioned, we already knew that these fissures were there, and we knew these inequities and inequalities were there. COVID spotlighted them. What we discovered through the course of the past year is that our Feminist International Assistance Policy has put us on the right path. Many of the issues we were seeing, whether it was the disproportionate impact on women and girls or skyrocketing rates of gender-based violence or further marginalization of marginalized groups, were well served by the Feminist International Assistance Policy. We were already doing work in those areas to address those needs, and now the world has recognized that these were the things we needed to be focused on. So Canada has a real opportunity to continue to lead in this space and to bring others along.
The Chair: Thank you, minister.
Senator Harder: Thank you minister, good to see you, even on this Hollywood Squares show. To follow up to the previous question from Senator Coyle on vaccines, do you have in your mind a threshold after which Canada will be prepared to share its vaccine purchases with developing countries? In that context, do you have a sense of what the reserve requirement will be in our inventories to assure Canadians that while we will contribute vaccines, we will also hold at least some portion back for emergency response?
Ms. Gould: Yes, absolutely. I don’t have those numbers because that work is being led by the Public Health Agency of Canada, but I can confirm that work is ongoing. Our objective is to make sure that every Canadian who wants to be fully vaccinated is fully vaccinated and that we have a reliable source of vaccines for Canadians, which I think we do and we’re confident with the incoming flow of vaccines, particularly over the coming months from Pfizer and Moderna. That being said, our primary objective is to ensure that Canadians who want to be fully vaccinated will be. Once we have that under control, then we will be in a position to donate excess vaccines. But that work is ongoing, and I think we will have more to say on that very shortly.
Senator Harder: Let me follow up on the TRIPS issue and the waiver for TRIPS. Is the Government of Canada coming to a view as to whether it will support the waiver? I certainly agree that there are arguments on both sides of this question — it’s not an easy one or a slam dunk. Could you inform us of the thinking at this time? And at next week’s G7, do you anticipate and will you be looking forward to further announcements on the G7’s commitment to this area of developing country assistance?
Ms. Gould: On the TRIPS waiver, Canada’s position has been open to having the conversation and negotiating from the beginning. We didn’t take a position purposely because there were countries in favour and against, and there was a wide gulf between them. This work is being led by Minister Ng and our representation at the World Trade Organization, or WTO. Canada’s position for the past nine months since this came on board was to try to close the gulf between the two sides and to get to a point where we can move forward. The IP waiver is one thing, but as you mentioned, Senator Harder, there is also the whole question of supply chains. There’s something like 120 inputs that go into making a single vaccine that comes from 19 different countries. Minister Ng, through the Ottawa Group, has been leading a conversation on health and trade and reducing those trade barriers to ensure that there is vaccine production and smooth supply chains. But then there is the whole question of knowledge, technology transfer and production capacity. Canada has been trying to have constructive conversations with all parties to advance this dialogue in a way where we actually see tangible results. We really welcome the U.S.’s position on the IP waiver for vaccines.
Senator Ataullahjan: Good afternoon, minister. We’re currently witnessing the largest migration and displacement of people since the end of World War II, with entire communities being driven away from their home countries due to conflict, extreme violence and economic and political instability, as well as environmental hazards. The United Nations predicts that this trend will continue to accelerate. How is the Government of Canada honouring its commitment to ensuring that people around the world have access to health interventions to fight COVID-19, and more specifically, how are the health needs of refugees and migrants being considered?
Ms. Gould: Thank you, senator, it’s a fantastic question and one we have been engaged with. In fact, one of the principal ways is through the ACT-Accelerator and the $1.3 billion that we provided.
I will note that the COVAX facility has what they are calling a humanitarian buffer. We are expecting, as a global community, that countries will include refugee and migrant populations as part of their national vaccination plans, but there is also a humanitarian buffer within the COVAX facility to reach people in conflict zones, for example, who might not otherwise have access to vaccines. That has been contemplated from the beginning. We’ve provided additional support to organizations like the International Organization for Migration, or IOM, and the UNHCR, so they can increase both their public health messaging within refugee contexts and their WASH facilities. We recognize that it’s one thing to ask people to wash their hands frequently, but if they don’t have access to clean water, it’s complicated. For a significant portion of the world’s refugees, clean water is not available to them, so we have been working with our international partners to ensure they have both the physical health inputs they need to respond to COVID-19 but also the broader public health infrastructure to do just that.
Senator Ataullahjan: Minister, I want to bring up the issue of polio, as someone who’s from northern Pakistan and who is an ethnic Pashtun. You do see polio specifically only in my tribe, no matter if they’re in Afghanistan, northern Pakistan or southern Pakistan. With everyone so focused on COVID, and rightly so, are you looking at the fact that the fight against polio continues?
Ms. Gould: Absolutely. Thank you for raising the issue of polio. We are so close to eradicating polio around the world and Canada has been such a strong partner in the global fight against polio. We have maintained our support to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. It was announced around this time last year in fact, and we continue to work with our partners, like Gavi, Rotary International and UNICEF, to really get through to polio.
It’s my understanding that we saw a little bit of a pullback in the vaccination efforts at the beginning of the pandemic, but what I know through conversations I’ve had with colleagues in the field is that these immunization efforts have come back online and have continued.
One thing I will note about the polio vaccination effort is that at the beginning of the pandemic, we saw a pivot from those public health workers in the polio campaigns using that infrastructure and surveillance to address COVID in the field. It was really amazing to see how our investments in fighting polio were able to take on a broader global health challenge.
The Chair: I would like to use my prerogative as the chair to ask a question. I had an interesting meeting yesterday with some Canadian lawyers who are working pro bono with other lawyers, mainly in Europe and the United States, on something called the Pandemic Mitigation Project. Whether this ends up being a treaty or just an agreement, the idea is that it follows the pattern of non-proliferation agreements of which there have been many in the world.
First, it would have a notification aspect that would require countries to immediately notify if there is an outbreak of a pathogenic, infectious or transmittable disease. Second, there would be a requirement for the notifying country to grant immediate access to a team drawn from a pre-vetted roster of inspectors — like what the World Health Organization, or WHO, should be doing. Third, there would be an enforcement component. If the country does not respond, there would always be the possibility of looking at economic or other sanctions or means of coercion.
I note that the G7 health ministers finished their meetings today in the U.K., and they are looking at more voluntary-type aspects. Do you have any thoughts on an initiative that strikes me as reasonable but perhaps difficult to negotiate?
Ms. Gould: Senator, you might be even better placed than I am in terms of your views on whether that is — well, it’s reasonable but whether it will be possible to negotiate within the current international context and climate.
I know that the EU and the WHO have put forward an initiative for one health treaty they announced, I believe, back in February, looking toward having a pandemic preparedness treaty. I think it’s an interesting question, and certainly, one that needs to be rigorously reviewed and debated. I think it might be in line with the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, or IPPPR, the pandemic response that was put forward and led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, in terms of what the world needs to do to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again or that we will be better prepared.
I’d be curious to know what the obligations are and how we would be able to enforce them, because that’s one of the challenges in the global architecture right now. We can have certain obligations, but what are the enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance? Then, what parts of them are possible to do at the international level and what parts would have to be voluntary from a country perspective in recognizing that our international system is based on the sovereignty of a nation state?
There are a lot of questions that I would like to ask, but one thing is for certain, which is that the world is recognizing that we need to do better when it comes to global health. I hope that’s something we not only take away from the pandemic but we actually implement moving forward so that we don’t repeat this.
The Chair: Thank you, minister. I will send you and your officials the brief. It’s a bit like the old days, but you’ll get it from me.
We’re moving into round two. Senators, I would ask you to be even more concise than you were on the first round.
Senator D. Black: Back to COVAX, minister. You outlined clearly that it is a plan to assist developing nations around the world, nations unlike Canada, who have a real need and inability to access the vaccine.
Notwithstanding that, minister, am I correct in understanding that Canada has accessed 1 million doses from the COVAX facility with the right to access another 900,000 doses by the end of June? Is that accurate? If that is accurate, why would Canada access a facility designed for needy nations? If that is the case, do we intend to repay those doses?
Ms. Gould: Thank you for the question. It allows me an opportunity to explain the COVAX facility.
COVAX has two windows. The first one is for self-financing countries, like Canada, that can purchase vaccines through COVAX. The second window, which is the Advance Market Commitment, or AMC, where countries can make donations to purchase vaccines on behalf of developing countries. Canada participated both as a self-financing country, as well as a donor to the AMC. The doses that Canada accessed are doses that the government purchased on behalf of Canadians for Canada, as well as the $545 million that we have donated to the COVAX AMC.
Senator D. Black: Would we anticipate accessing more doses from the COVAX facility, as you’ve outlined? If so, do we intend to give doses back to the facility where the need is clearly greater?
Ms. Gould: Those conversations are under way, and those are decisions that will be made by the Public Health Agency of Canada as well as the Minister of Procurement based on what Canada’s vaccine supply is.
Senator D. Black: Thank you, minister.
Senator M. Deacon: Thank you, again. I’m going to try to come back to where I left off, which is the two-speed recovery from richer to poorer countries. How we can ensure the wealth gap between countries — one that has been closing — does not start to grow once more.
Ms. Gould: Very concise.
This is important work that Canada has been leading, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, with Jamaica and the United Nations through Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond. It’s work we have been pushing through the G20 and the Debt Service Suspension Initiative.
One thing I have certainly been hearing from leaders in the international community is the challenge of taking on debt to finance the health response. Some countries are taking on additional debt to purchase vaccines or to increase their health system capacity.
This is where Canada via the Prime Minister has been leading this work at the international level to see how we can address that moving forward. Also, Canada provided from the beginning of the pandemic an additional billion dollars to the IMF to help with that response. It’s also where having an equitable, sustainable, resilient response is really important. Looking at how we rebuild in a way that is more inclusive is something we’re having active conversations around.
It was baked into our Feminist International Assistance Policy from the beginning, so Canada is on the right track with the work we’re doing and where we can bring others along to have a more equitable and inclusive response, recognizing that developing countries might not have been hit as hard by the health elements of the pandemic but hit exceptionally hard by the economic consequences.
Senator Ngo: Minister, can you outline the specific engagement the government has initiated with countries that responded so well to the pandemic, such as Israel, New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan and so on, so that Canada can benefit from their approaches as part of our lessons learned exercise?
Ms. Gould: Thank you.
This work is being led out of Health Canada, but I do know, based on conversations I’ve had with my colleagues and with Dr. Tam, that she has engaged with colleagues around the world, including Israel and New Zealand. This is also work that’s happening within the WHO, which is, again, being led by our colleagues at Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada to share knowledge, best practices and lessons learned.
Senator Ngo: Minister, there is an increasing number of reports that the COVID-19 outbreak may have been the result of an accidental escape of the substance from a Chinese virology lab. A recently published letter signed by 18 scientists has called for a proper investigation into this matter — recently, also from the United States — that should be data-driven, which should be transparent and subject to independent oversight. Do you agree with that?
Ms. Gould: Yes, Canada does agree with that, and we were very clear after the WHO investigation that we felt that more needed to be done. That’s not to suggest that’s how the COVID-19 pandemic started, but we want to have better information as to the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senator Ngo: Thank you, minister.
Senator Omidvar: Minister, there is a motion on the floor of the Senate calling upon the Canadian government to match Canadians’ donations to support India in its battle against the COVID crisis. Just last year, as a point of reference, in response to the devastating blast in Beirut, the Canadian government matched $8 million of donations from Canadians.
Do you have a plan to match the donations of Canadians to India in its fight against COVID?
Ms. Gould: Thank you, senator, for the question.
As I’m sure you know, Canada provided $10 million to the Indian Red Cross for their domestic response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I was incredibly moved and distraught by the images I saw in India and the information I was getting. I know Canadians were as well.
To put it into context, Canadians mobilized in response to the COVID crisis in India to the tune of $39 million, $5 million of which went to the Indian Red Cross and $34 million went to other organizations. We do not have a plan at this point in time to match those donations. It has been quite a strong response from both the Government of Canada as well as individual Canadian citizens and businesses.
I would also note that we also sent additional material and supplies that were requested by the government of India, both with regard to ventilators and remdesivir that has since been distributed across India. I will also note that I recently spoke with High Commissioner Bisaria, who expressed his gratitude to Canada for our response and communicated how those funds and supplies had been distributed around the country.
Senator Omidvar: The young Canadians, primarily of Indian heritage, who have come together and raised more than $3 million, I believe, for the COVID India Relief Fund have provided Canadians with a list of charities operating in Canada that are trusted and reliable. There are a lot of reports — and I’m sure you know them as well — that the best way of getting relief to India is through trusted charities.
I noticed in your remarks that outside of the $5 million donation to the Indian Red Cross, most of it is government-to-government help, which is okay, but I just wonder if you consider the efficiency of matching Canadians’ donations because they go to charities on the ground immediately.
Ms. Gould: I always support Canadians providing assistance, whether it be through charities, the Red Cross or other trusted partners. Certainly, when it comes to the humanitarian coalition, these are charities with whom the Government of Canada works closely.
But given the immediate need and the response, we felt it was important to provide this funding to the Indian Red Cross because they were on the front line, providing oxygen, support and medical interventions that were needed at that point in time. But I strongly value the work that Canadian and international charities do in India and right around the world.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you, minister.
The Chair: Minister, on behalf of the committee, I’d like to thank you very much for appearing before us today. Thank you for your answers and your willingness to accept all of our questions. Thank you again.
Colleagues, we are now ready to resume our meeting. We have before us a panel of representatives from international development organizations. From Oxfam-Québec, we have Denise Byrnes, Director General.
From CARE Canada, we have Barbara Grantham, President and CEO; and Rebecca Davidson, Head of Programs, Global Health. Finally, we have from Cooperation Canada, Nicolas Moyer, President and Chief Executive Officer.
Ms. Byrnes, Ms. Grantham and Mr. Moyer, you each have five minutes to make your opening statements.
Questions will follow. Ms. Byrnes, the floor is yours.
Denise Byrnes, Director General, Oxfam-Québec: Ladies and gentlemen of the committee, thank you very much for inviting me.
Since March 11, we know that the pandemic has infected over 100 million people worldwide and caused over 2 million deaths. This pandemic has greatly exacerbated already existing inequalities in our society and has disproportionately affected women, youth and racialized people everywhere. It is they who are more likely to face poverty, job loss, violence and the illness itself. At Oxfam-Québec, we have not been spared. We had to respond very quickly to tremendous needs on the ground in a number of countries. Thanks to the support of our financial partners, our members were able to respond to the immediate needs of 14 million people around the world during this past year.
To do this, we worked with almost 700 local civil society organizations in 68 countries, as these organizations are truly the key players in the local response. We worked with 200 women’s rights organizations because, as we have already pointed out, this pandemic has increased violence. The issue of conflict affecting women more and the issue of equal access to school were raised earlier by one of the committee members.
We have also provided a lot of food aid and livelihood support, because people have lost their way of making a living, have lost their jobs, are not able to move around and so on. We have helped over 550,000 people in the areas of protection, domestic violence, and gender inequality, all of which have been exacerbated during the pandemic.
The pandemic crisis is not over and the social and economic impacts will persist over time. It is therefore important to ensure a just, feminist and sustainable economic recovery for all. To that end, for us, the recovery has three priority areas. The first is that — as someone pointed out earlier — the pandemic has reversed the effects of years of development programs. According to an Oxfam study, the pandemic could worsen inequality in almost every country on the planet at once. This is the first time since statistics have been compiled in this regard. The crisis calls for a sustained, long-term recommitment to international development, not just a temporary increase in emergency funding.
Therefore, the weakness of the world’s health care systems is a major issue and investing in public health care funding will be critical, as they provide services to the most vulnerable, to those with fewest resources. While so-called “innovative” private public funding, such as global funds, is one response to the pandemic, it should not be given a higher priority than public service investments.
Canada’s tendency to invest a lot of aid money in multilateral institutions, such as the World Bank, may pose some challenges, because many will provide loans when countries are already facing a large debt load and when COVID-19 has made the situation more difficult. We need to think about grants rather than loans for economic recovery and health care systems.
The food crisis is a looming blind spot in many countries. We have heard important testimony from our partners everywhere that people are much more afraid of dying of starvation than of COVID-19 because they have lost their jobs. They have lost a lot, especially women.
The second priority area is universal access to vaccines and treatments, which was mentioned earlier. These vaccines should be an asset. We need to ensure access to vaccines for everyone, because otherwise we will not get out of this safely.
The COVAX program is an excellent initiative. The Government of Canada has shown great leadership in funding COVAX, but access to vaccines will not be solved through COVAX alone because the vaccines are not available. We need to look at the waiver of the WTO trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS), so that we can scale up production and distribute vaccines quickly to where they are needed.
Finally, I’d like to talk about feminist foreign development policy. During the pandemic, we saw that the feminist international assistance policy was an excellent tool to reach the most vulnerable and distribute money directly to local organizations. Foreign policy could be a very worthwhile tool to ensure economic recovery and a greener, more equitable recovery for women in particular.
The pandemic has cost women around the world over $800 billion in lost income. It will take them at least 10 years to return to their pre-pandemic financial situation. So there is an urgent need to invest in women and in economic recovery to address women’s realities and to address issues of violence, conflict, poverty and domestic violence. Thank you very much.
I can take your questions in French or English.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation.
Barbara Grantham, President and CEO, CARE Canada: Thank you very much. I’m glad you came back, Ms. Byrnes. I’m glad you had an opportunity to finish.
As all of us know, COVID-19 has had a devastating impact here in Canada, with a neck-in-neck race between the vaccine rollout and the third wave now ebbing across the country. We are beginning to see the light at the end of this long tunnel, with more people getting vaccinated and more doses arriving in communities across the country every week.
This race against time is global, and in far too many places around the world where CARE works, in both development and humanitarian contexts, COVID-19 is outpacing the ability of health systems, governments, communities and economies to cope. The pandemic also continues to expose deepening systemic inequalities that have long affected women and girls, threatening decades of progress and backsliding on hard-won rights and inclusion all over the world.
In recent weeks, CARE has had reports from colleagues in South Sudan, the DRC and Malawi of vaccines expiring before they are administered. This is in part because of misinformation leading to vaccine hesitancy, as well as the need to adequately prepare health systems for delivery, particularly to remote and hard to reach areas. Even well-established health care infrastructure like ours is under enormous strain, with shortages of beds, medical oxygen, antivirals and other essential drugs and treatments. The situation is truly dire.
In this unprecedented race against time, a fair and equitable global vaccine roll-out is essential. The longer that the virus spreads and mutates among non-vaccinated populations, the more likely we are to see the emergence of more virulent, more contagious and potentially vaccine-resistant strains. Ultimately, no one is safe until everyone is vaccinated.
While some world leaders have made bold commitments to the equitable distribution of vaccines, other high-income countries, including ours, have purchased supplies vastly outstripping coverage needs. As of this week, low-income countries have received only 0.3% of the global vaccine supply, and these are expected to cover only one third of the population by the end of 2021. It is time for countries like Canada to start redistributing our excess vaccines now.
What’s more, we’ve seen how those vaccines are ineffective without robust and comprehensive delivery systems. Investing in health system delivery, in which women front-line health care workers are the essential link, is the key to strengthening community trust and resilience, and thereby greater vaccine acceptance and rollout.
The upcoming G7 is an opportunity for Canada to continue to show its essential leadership for vaccine equity, including rollout and delivery. That includes heeding the call for a costed global road map to achieving community coverage worldwide. It also includes advocacy with development banks to ensure their grants and interest-free loans support vaccination, provide comprehensive support and encompass readiness and delivery. It is also an opportunity to prioritize investment in women front-line health care workers and ensure that they are paid, protected and valued.
There’s an opportunity to address long-standing inequities within health systems to alleviate the double burden of unpaid health care duties that women face. We see the additional physical and psychological strains placed on them by overburdened health care systems in communities, and with their children and families either out of school or out of work.
These investments and this advocacy aligns with Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy and the ministerial mandate letter’s commitment to support and protect the rights of paid and unpaid care workers.
Canada can be a leader in vaccine equity and in finding a gender-just recovery out of this pandemic. We’d like to be that leader. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We’ll now move on to Nicolas Moyer.
Nicolas Moyer, President and Chief Executive Officer, Cooperation Canada: Hello. It’s a pleasure to be with you and to join you from the city of Ottawa, which I acknowledge is on the unceded territory of the Anishinaabe and Algonquin First Nations.
I want to briefly mention that Cooperation Canada, the organization I have the honour of leading, is an organization that represents a broad sector in Canada, with over 2,000 organizations that work in international cooperation in some form in our country that work toward a better, fair and more sustainable world for all. We also work right across the globe.
Thank you very much for having us here today. I believe that, as we have heard before, the world and Canada are facing a crisis of unprecedented magnitude and on a scale that is difficult to measure.
While we see a return to some form of normalcy in Canada, the crisis is far from over in the countries of the south. After decades of global progress in virtually every human development indicator, we have lost 25 years in just 25 weeks of the pandemic. We are witnessing a large-scale decline. Women and girls are particularly impacted. The impacts of the crisis are gendered. Women bear the greatest burden.
Public health care systems are overwhelmed and under tremendous pressure. We are seeing tattered economies and broken supply chains. Too many people have seen their earned income vanish. Human rights, women’s rights and democracy are all at risk as authoritarian states are using the pandemic and the distraction it provides to suppress freedom and civil society.
Given the scale of the global issues we face today, it’s important to recall that Canada entered this crisis as an international development donor whose contributions lagged behind those of its Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, peers. Widely held public misconceptions of aid levels persist in Canada, with assumptions that we are more generous than other countries, but we must recall that our country lags behind OECD averages in terms of ODA as a share of our economy and even as other countries have maintained or are pursuing commitments to pierce their benchmark of 0.7% as a fair share of ODA.
This remains a distant goal for Canada. In fact, we aren’t even halfway there.
Since last summer, the international cooperation sector has been asking for Canada to contribute 1% of its total domestic COVID response to the international response, supporting global public health to gain access to vaccines, therapeutics and more. Also, that this be additional to the envelope to preserve long-term development goals and that it be predictable so that we can have the impact we seek to fulfil the promises of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy.
The international development sector wholeheartedly supports the government commitments of the last year in support of the COVID response, as outlined by the minister earlier. These will directly save lives. We certainly welcome Canada’s demonstrated leadership and announcements over the last year to support access to vaccines, therapeutics and many of the development-side impacts of the pandemic.
In so doing, we also encourage the government to emphasize transparency and international assistance flows. Crises can often result in diminished focus in this area, and we have to maintain a high collective expectation in terms of public accountability for funds announced and disbursed in order to enable effective partner engagement.
We also know that even with the support that’s been announced in this last year, more must be done to fulfil Canada’s ambitions for a world that reflects our values and within which we can all succeed. We have a principled reputation on the global stage, and now more than ever, we need to invest in the future we want to see. It’s both the right thing to do and clearly in our interest; we benefit when the world does well.
While there are many great challenges ahead, I’d like to emphasize three. I’ll be very brief because we’ve already covered vaccine inequity. It is a widely shared goal that we need to be doing better in that space. We can understand it’s about fairness, equality and human dignity, but it’s also in our interest in Canada, as we’ve heard and as Ms. Grantham has eloquently described.
There is — and I want to emphasize this — a significant, looming global debt crisis. Low- and middle-income countries have had little to no fiscal space to respond to this crisis, with governments often left to choose between containing the pandemic and facing certain economic collapse. For many, pandemic responses have been limited by crushing debt loads. Some countries are paying two to four times more for debt servicing than they are on health care.
While we know there’s a global debt crisis before us, there are no clear frameworks for global coordination to prevent it. In addition to being an example of economic injustice, the outlook also poses serious threats to the global economy as a whole. Our past experience with the global economic crisis has certainly taught us that we all suffer when the global economy collapses. The rich will become richer, and the poor will become poorer, in Canada just as in the rest of the world.
I’m well past my time, I’m afraid.
The Chair: I was about to tell you that, but I’m glad you saw it.
Mr. Moyer: I’ll stop there.
The Chair: I’m sure we will get more points through in the question period.
We’re going to follow the same format as in the first panel with four-minute periods. I encourage senators to keep preambles short, questions concise and the same goes for our witnesses.
Senator M. Deacon: Thank you for being here. As a continuation of the first round, I am going to come back to schools and young girls again. It’s my four-decade-long passion.
This question is directed to CARE, but I welcome others to respond. When we talk about the possibility of 10 million girls not returning to school globally, I would like to know how we can see to it when it’s safe to do so that every young girl who had access to education before the pandemic can return to school. What are the things that, strategically, you’re looking at as an organization to help us get to that bottom line?
Ms. Grantham: Thank you very much for your question, senator. I’m going to ask my colleague Ms. Rebecca Davidson, who is the head of our global programming and has deep subject matter expertise in this, to lead off in our answer to that question.
Rebecca Davidson, Head of Programs, Global Health, CARE Canada: Thank you for the question.
This is a really important piece, and we are seeing already that teenage pregnancy is also on the rise since schools closed. In Kenya, in one year, we’ve seen a 40% increase in adolescent pregnancies in one of our programs. So this is a key issue, and access to education is also driven by economic inequities as well.
In our programming, we’re really looking at how child and early forced marriage are driven by, for example, food insecurity and limited access to livelihoods. We’re working with communities to address both the food insecurity challenges that sometimes lead to child and early forced marriage, but we are also re-imagining what some of these asset transfers look like. We’re working really closely with communities around gender and social norms change, a key piece in addressing the economic challenges that communities are facing.
One of the key recommendations here is flexible funding. We have been lucky in terms of our programming where we are implementing in communities and rural or hard-to-reach communities in a humanitarian context. We’ve had the flexibility to respond to needs. For a nutrition project, we’re now looking at SRHR, sexual and reproductive health rights.
It’s really about working with partners that are on the ground in communities to be able to be responsive to the needs.
A key pillar of our programming is looking at the gender and social norm changes that need to happen to support girls to stay in school and make decisions about their own health and bodies.
Senator M. Deacon: That’s very helpful.
The Chair: I will interrupt you, because I think Ms. Byrnes wants to add a point.
Ms. Byrnes: Yes, I do. It’s true that financial issues are key around getting to gender and social norms.
The other one, which was just touched upon, is access to proper sexual reproductive health information and services. As we rebuild, having that gender lens on, what is preventing girls from getting back to where they were before? That’s a big one. It’s great we’re investing in it in Canada, but we need flexible funding that responds to the local organizations’ needs.
The Chair: I believe Ms. Grantham had a point to add as well.
Colleagues, we’re going to have to be careful in terms of our timing here, so direct the question to the witness. Of course, other witnesses can respond as well. I’ll try to manage it.
Ms. Grantham: Maybe I’ll just add one more element, Senator M. Deacon, to the very eloquent things that my colleagues, Ms. Davidson and Ms. Byrnes, both said. That is coming back to vaccine equity. One of the main reasons girls have not been able to go to school is because of lockdowns and all of the consequences of lockdowns. The sooner we get vaccine equity, the sooner high numbers of people around the world are vaccinated, we can end lockdowns. That is another precondition for girls being able to return to school.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Senator Ataullahjan: My question was partly answered. I was just thinking back to the Ebola outbreak and how, after that, we saw so many teenage pregnancies. However, that was asked already.
I would like to ask a question closer to home. As a senator from Toronto, I have seen a lot of immigrant communities that have fallen through the cracks. Our shelters are full. They say there’s a pandemic within the pandemic. They’re getting so many calls, they don’t know how to handle them.
We’re also seeing there were more cases of COVID in areas that had higher immigrant populations. What is Canada doing? It’s good we talk about what we’re doing elsewhere in the world, but I think we also need to look at the people who are falling through the cracks here in Canada. Nobody has even looked at the refugees. What has happened to the people who came as refugees? Are they going to be vaccinated or not? What kind of support is available to them?
The Chair: Senator, to whom are you directing your question?
Senator Ataullahjan: To Ms. Byrnes, or anyone who would like to answer and who has looked at stats within Canada. What’s happening here in Canada?
Ms. Byrnes: You’re quite right. We’ve been working with the Observatoire québécois des inégalités throughout the pandemic every month on different issues. One of the issues that has come up is that, obviously, communities like Montréal-Nord in Montreal, which are largely immigrant and Black, have been much harder hit. They are front-line workers and they have more vulnerable situations in terms of jobs, et cetera. It’s a real issue.
When we look at Les Objectifs de développement durable, we’re supposed to be meeting those targets at home and abroad. There is an argument to be made that we should be meeting those targets here as well as we are elsewhere. I think that asks for a bit more cross-government collaboration as well. We apply to different windows in the government. We do work here in Canada, as well, on issues of racism, exclusion, et cetera. Many international organizations also work here. But there needs to be more cross-government collaboration on this kind of issue, because we often get told that it’s somebody else’s department. It’s not integrated well enough. That’s my answer.
Senator Ataullahjan: I have a quick question. We’ve also seen that the frequency and severity of violence against women have really increased. These women are often locked up with their abusers, and the shelters are full. While we’re arguing about which government or department should be looking after this, is there any help available, in the meantime, to those women if the shelters are full? They’re living with their partners and, especially if they’re immigrants, they might not have extended family here. What happens to those women and girls?
Ms. Byrnes: I can answer quickly, but my colleagues may want to come in.
The government has made a couple of announcements about financing for women’s organizations here who are working on violence. I think it would be great if the committee also spoke with Minister Monsef on what kind of financing might be available for women’s organizations in post-COVID, because we’re seeing the same thing across the world: an increase of violence and women being stuck in situations that they can’t get out of.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you to all three of you for being with us today and for all the wonderful work you do for Canadians and global citizens.
My question is likely to Mr. Moyer because he represents Cooperation Canada, which has a large membership. Mr. Moyer, can you tell me whether your colleagues in the international development field in the U.S., the U.K. and Australia are pooling their efforts to bring about greater reach, efficiency and impact in these COVID efforts and whether your members are part of these pooled efforts?
Mr. Moyer: There are diverse responses to that. The global COVID response is very broad. What we have seen in Canada is a launch of a consolidated appeal for fundraising by the humanitarian coalition. Multiple agencies, two of which are on this call, have put their efforts together to fundraise and to mobilize funds.
In terms of pooled responses, I’m afraid I can’t actually draw on specific examples of the COVID response. It may be that my colleagues can through their global program partnerships.
Ms. Grantham: I can do that.
The Chair: Please go ahead.
Ms. Grantham: Thank you, Senator Omidvar, for all that you do to support our work. Thank you for this question.
I’ll just give a couple of examples. As part of an international confederation like Oxfam, we work with our fellow members across the confederation. CARE has a presence in about 100 countries around the world.
As just one example, over the last six to eight weeks, we’ve mounted a very present and sustained response in India, specifically. Many parts of the confederation, from the U.K., the U.S., Canada, across Europe, Australia and so on, have really come together in a very singular way to support our colleagues in India. Now we are turning our attention to Nepal, Bangladesh and some of the other contexts nearby to India where numbers are continuing to be very troublesome. I think those are very important efforts. Those are less visible, quite frankly, within the world context. I don’t think the degree to which the civil society sector uses its global reach to have very high impact is always seen from a country-specific context like here in Canada. I can certainly say that from a CARE Canada perspective, it has been very robust.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you. Do I have time for a follow-up?
The Chair: It would have to be a quick one, senator.
Senator Omidvar: Let me ask Ms. Byrnes. Can you comment on the legislative and regulatory barriers in Canada that prevent international development charities from being effective on the ground?
Ms. Byrnes: Sure. I’ll do that quickly. I thank you for the work you’ve done on this, Senator Omidvar.
We are talking about pooled funds. You mentioned pooled funds. Pooled funds are a very effective way, in a country, of trying to put all the incoming funds together for a humanitarian response and then dispersing them based on need — where the need is most, so reaching the most vulnerable.
One of the challenges we have with that is the law around directly owned and controlled activities — the income tax law — which is quite antiquated. That law says that everything we do with the money we receive from the public we have to use for our own activities. That is quite challenging when we’re relying on global organizations who know the context and who are well implanted in their context. Even our other Oxfams, who are well implanted, are not considered qualified donees by the government. To meet those requirements we have to take on a lot of administrative and contracting burdens and create all sorts of paper trails.
The Chair: Thank you, Ms. Byrnes. Time is up on that one. I should note that it’s an important subject. Senator Omidvar knows it well. She has a bill before the Senate on that very subject.
Senator Coyle: Thank you to all of our witnesses today. My question, I believe, is for Mr. Moyer, but others may want to weigh in.
You spoke about, as have others, how there has been a rolling back of development outcomes with particularly hard impacts on women and girls and on reproductive health education, et cetera. You also mentioned something we haven’t heard anybody else mention yet, which is people’s incomes having evaporated. That is so critical to everything else.
Earlier today, we also heard Minister Gould speak about how Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy has stood Canada in good stead, actually, in the face of this.
Could you speak to us, Mr. Moyer, about the feminist international assistance approach of Canada’s and whether, from your perspective and the perspective of your members, it has, in fact, stood us in good stead? What could we be doing further to respond to this rollback that you have described?
Mr. Moyer: Thank you, Senator Coyle, for the question. The Feminist International Assistance Policy responds very clearly to the priorities that international development partners have identified, and for our country. It’s a very well-defined framework that anchors a need to focus around gender equality all of the lenses of global engagement. It is part of Canada’s unique contribution to global fora in a variety of ways. It is a valuable framework, one we support, and it has been very well adapted in many respects to the COVID impacts in terms of the directions it identifies.
One of the biggest challenges that exist is resourcing the Feminist International Assistance Policy. For it to have the full impact, it needs to have resources assigned to it. Earlier I brought up that the U.K. has rolled back some of their financing commitments around, not least, sexual reproductive health and rights. Canada’s specific focus in that area is a really unique added value that has huge corollary impacts in terms of leading other donors to follow suit and continue to open space there.
However, I will take one step back. The global impacts of this crisis are so large that it’s not just about international development assistance. Our leadership is needed on multiple fronts and the global rules-based order that we’ve taken for granted for the last several decades is under threat, democracy and human rights are under threat. We have a responsibility as a country to lean in more heavily. We have had discussions about a feminist foreign policy for Canada. This is not yet landed. It could help us make the connections between our trade and our diplomatic portfolios in more important ways to entrench a gender focus in our foreign policy. I think there are much broader conversations that need to be brought to bear when looking at the massive corollary impacts of the pandemic.
Senator Coyle: Thank you, so much, Mr. Moyer, for your points. This is far beyond our development assistance. I completely agree with you, and I’m glad you brought that up. You talk about leaning in more. Can you give yourself a few more seconds on that? What does that entail?
Mr. Moyer: Canada thrives in a multilateral rules-based order. We know that. It is in our self-interest that there is a functional rules-based order. There are places where presently we know that the system needs to be strengthened. The World Health Summit, or WHS, is an example of that. It’s a global infrastructure to support our global public health needs, on which all of our countries are dependent. It is a structure that should be invested in and supported. That is one example.
Senator Boniface: Thank you to our witnesses. This has been enlightening. I’d like to address my question to Ms. Grantham.
You commented about the risks around vaccine equity worldwide. Could you spend a few more minutes on it? My greatest fear as we go forward is the rise of nationalism. I think the point someone made is the rich countries will do well and recover, and those other countries will not. I wonder how you would suggest we continue to work on this productively for the public’s understanding, particularly for Canadians out there who are anxious to get their vaccine. Second, in the context of the reference that was made to expiring vaccines as a result of a breakdown of the supply chain, transportation, all the other issues that are challenging within developing countries. Thank you very much and thank you all for the work that you do.
Ms. Grantham: Thank you very much, Senator Boniface. It’s an excellent question and very salient, even with the news that we’re hearing the last few days. Let me come at it a couple of ways. Your first question is around how we convince Canadians this is the right thing to do, that vaccine equity globally is the right thing to do. I think there are two lines of conversation. The first line of conversation is around a moral argument, a human rights argument and a global social justice argument. I don’t think I need to go down that road any further with this well-versed group.
I think there is another argument that’s much more practical. That is, at a very practical level, until a certain proportion of the globe is vaccinated, we’re not going to get back to an economy and a world in which we can live even a modicum of the way we did before, whatever that new normal looks like. We will not be travelling safely. We will not have access to the kinds of freedoms in our lives. We will not be able to visit our families and our families will not be able to come here and visit us — these very practical things — until we reach a level of global herd immunity, for lack of a better term. We can all sit here in 70% to 80% vaccine rates and feel great, but until we reach something approaching that globally, we will not have the social connections that we crave, but just as importantly, the economic devastation. Globally, we will not regain traction economically — in terms of employment, income and livelihoods — until we start to reach that level. That is the case to be made to Canadians, and I think we’ve shown ourselves to have a great capacity over the last 15 months to listen to public health officials and to take good guidance. I think we would be looking to leaders like you, along with our elected officials and other leaders across the country, to be bringing that message.
On vaccine expiry, my point, to reiterate, is easy. I say that cautiously. There is ease in sending vaccines, but if they’re sitting on tarmacs in airports, if they’re sitting on a road and they cannot get that last mile into a community context and into someone’s arm, then all the effort to get the vaccine to the country is for naught. That’s why the investment in the health infrastructure as well as the vaccine itself is so critical.
Senator Harder: Thank you to our witnesses for not only appearing here, but for the work you’re doing on this important subject.
My question is for Mr. Moyer, but I think others might have a view on this as well. Part of your commentary was about the post-pandemic crisis in terms of the debt crisis that will follow so quickly thereafter. I was somewhat involved in the debt relief exercise of the early 2000s, and one of the clear helpers in getting global consensus — least G8 consensus — was the coordination among global program partners of civil society.
I wonder if you could tell us whether or not those conversations are being had presently? Are they being coordinated through the G7 process so that, in a sense, governments are getting from civil society the same end-coordinated pressures? Specifically, has the U.K. reached out to civil society in advance of next week’s summit? What work is being done beyond that? It would be helpful for us to hear from you on that. Thank you.
Mr. Moyer: Thank you, Senator Harder, for the question. Yes, there have been civil society calls from across the globe to look at addressing the global debt crisis going back to summer last year. There are significant coordinated efforts across civil society groups across the globe, injecting these issues into conversations in the lead-up to the G7 and other platforms where they are made possible.
We have been calling for political leaders to create a single debt-cancellation framework that would link state, non-states and private-like lenders. The UN Secretary General himself has called for, first, a moratorium on debt payments; second, targeted debt relief; and, third, reforms of the international debt infrastructure. I will say that the top themes that seem to be emerging, with respect to the G7, are education, climate and vaccine equity. That’s as much as I can say for now.
This is definitely in the mix of the issues that we hope will be discussed, and civil society is pushing for that, but as you can appreciate, there are a lot of issues at this stage, and the debt issue has not gotten the profile that we believe it should.
Senator Harder: I encourage the stakeholders in civil society to continue on this. It’s going to be a multi-year effort, and I do say that governments are responsive if they see a coordinated action plan and requests from civil society, so keep at it.
Senator Ravalia: Thank you, witnesses, for all the work that you do. Please accept my sincere gratitude.
My question is for Ms. Davidson. What data is there on how the pandemic has impacted the lives of LGBTQ2 individuals? Can you speak to this impact and, if possible, what measures are being taken to address these issues, particularly in light of the fact that many in this community live in the shadows in many of the countries where we provide aid?
Ms. Davidson: Thank you for the important question. There is very limited data on these populations, in part because it’s very difficult to collect that safely without putting people at risk in contexts where these communities are targeted. So I cannot speak to the data involved, but I can speak to what we’re doing in terms of inclusive, responsive delivery, particularly when it comes to vaccine rollout. One of the key gaps that I see — and a key opportunity to reach these populations, LGBTQI plus others who are marginalized in difficult places to reach — is in the role of front-line community health workers, 70% of whom are women. Over 86%, in sub-Saharan Africa, are unpaid volunteers. They are missing from many of these global conversations.
These are pivotal actors in terms of addressing vaccine hesitancy and being able to build the trust of communities that we need to reach, particularly those who are marginalized and who are not necessarily able to go to a health facility on a regular basis to provide information and to play a key role in vaccine delivery.
CARE has done some costing on that and estimates that $5 per $1 on a vaccine dollar is required to fund the actual delivery and get vaccines out to communities. Part of that is paying these volunteers, paying front-line health care workers. That’s part of the inequity and the loss-of-income piece that we have been talking about today in this conversation as well. I encourage this to continue to be a piece of the puzzle that is the part of these global conversations around funding vaccine delivery, so that we’re not returning vaccines to COVAX to be redirected to stronger health systems where they have the funding to roll out the vaccines and where they’re getting to the places they are needed most.
Ms. Byrnes: Beyond the health impacts, all the lockdown measures and the way things have been going have allowed certain governments to really erode the democratic space in their countries and to crack down quite a bit on human rights defenders. LGBTQ2+ people are particularly affected by that in many countries. This is another issue that, going forward, we will need to look at: How we are working to support those defenders of the rights of LGBTQ2+ people who are being adversely affected because governments are using lockdown as an excuse to reinforce the policing and the undemocratic ways of working with populations.
Senator Ravalia: Thank you very much.
The Chair: We will move into the second round in a moment, but I have a question. I think it’s best put — well, anyone can comment on it but maybe to Mr. Moyer.
In this pandemic, as we look at the medium and the longer term, countries that have become emerging economies, shall we say that no longer qualify for official development assistance under the rules established in the OECD Development Assistance Committee, or DAC, are falling behind. They’re going to be in a position where they’re going to have to request.
The International Monetary Fund has taken a more intelligent approach to this in the past, as opposed to imposing structural adjustment agreements and that sort of thing. They’re being creative in terms of broadening balance sheets. How do you see the policy milieu, as we go ahead, as we continue vaccination, but as countries will be facing a decline in their own capabilities, whether it’s fiscal or monetary?
Mr. Moyer: Those are very astute observations and points to raise, Senator Boehm.
Our investments around the globe are more critical than ever for the very reasons that you have raised. There are some important tendencies, trends, that have been accelerated by the COVID crisis. We have seen this raise a lot of questions around the models that we have for international development assistance. We need to be recognizing and grappling with a colonial history in North-South relations that define the infrastructures that we have. We’ve known this for a long time. This is what we talk about as a localization agenda. It’s enshrined within global agreements like the Grand Bargain, but it’s time to really accelerate that now. We need to be looking at decentralizing the way that we work, supporting partners in ways that are more effective, even connecting back to the previous conversation around LGBTQ rights and human rights defenders. We need to figure out how to get funding to social movements, civil society, in ways that allow them to have the impact we want them to have.
This is raising big, big questions about the structures and processes that we have. The biggest, most distant defining factor of our infrastructure is Global Affairs Canada. Civil society and other partners replicate their donor infrastructure and have to respond to their requirements. Whether it’s the direction-and-control issues that Senator Omidvar is trying to grapple with, or whether it’s funding mechanisms, how RFPs are conducted, who receives those funds and where they go — there are big questions there.
We could talk about those big trends quite a bit. I can only add that the needs outstrip our resources, so we need to seek efficiencies wherever we can.
The Chair: So aid effectiveness will become very important. I’m hoping we can continue this discussion at future meetings at some point because it’s very important. We’re into the second round.
Senator Ataullahjan: I want to express my gratitude to all the witnesses today for the very important work that you do.
Ms. Byrnes briefly touched on my question, but, Mr. Moyer, my question was to you. While everyone is so consumed with COVID, what’s the state of human rights? I’m hearing of attacks on journalists, of people being picked up. When I try, in my local context, to find news and when I turn to any news channel, it’s mostly COVID, COVID, COVID and the numbers. Are human rights being overlooked? Who is keeping an eye on the numbers?
Mr. Moyer: Thank you very much, senator, for the question because you are absolutely right. The attention has been driven inward in virtually every country. The pandemic has taken over. It has taken our eyes off many of the trends that are happening. This includes, in particular, the vulnerability of human rights defenders, of civil society movements, and frankly falls within a broader trend of regression on democratic values and human rights that we have seen prior to the pandemic.
The world’s leading democracies have done less investment in support of democracies over recent decades. We have to be questioning some of those things. I do not have specific numbers to share. Maybe my colleagues here, do. But the consistent reporting back is this: With the shifting spotlight of the pandemic, civil society leaders are under threat and human rights defenders are under threat at a critical time. Are we talking enough about this? No. Should we talk more? Absolutely. While we talk to you here about the development impacts, the outcomes, where the symptoms are often, there are structural political needs in terms of investments we need to make on a global scale. Also, we need to ask ourselves how much we’re willing to put into the defence of humanitarian and human rights principles around the globe.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you to all the witnesses. My question is again for Mr. Moyer.
Mr. Moyer, you can appreciate that aid is often perceived by receiving countries as colonial. There is a smell out there that the West knows best. There is a history of practice where we do for other people, instead of doing with other people. I wonder if you can comment on your membership’s journey from generosity, on the one hand, to empowerment on the other. How has this shifted, or has it shifted your values, protocols and service models?
Mr. Moyer: What a large question, thank you very much, senator. Our sector is imbued with deep principles of solidarity and collaboration. We have also inherited a legacy of colonial practice, and it continues to be embedded in the structures that we have today in terms of North-South relations, and it comes down to access to resources, power and influence.
I think the realization of that has reached a different scale today than we have seen. There has been a lot of evolution in thinking. Organizations are thinking very seriously about, for example, how to decentralize decision-making, and how to shift their work from program delivery to solidarity and advocacy in their home markets for the right policies to be in place. Also, there is recognition that often we might have more impact on influencing our government’s trade policies or human rights policies than we might have on the delivery of programs directly.
I think these are existential questions for our sector. We are working through them — in fact, looking at ourselves critically. That is one consistent feature of our sector, looking at ourselves critically and surfacing major issues.
I will stop there in the interests of time, but if my peers wanted to join the discussion they certainly could.
Ms. Grantham: Thank you, Senator Omidvar. As Mr. Moyer said, this is an existential question that is consuming the sector on many fronts. There is a fundamental question being posed. It has been posed for many years, but the pandemic has brought more speed and acceleration to the question: Is aid in and of itself a colonial construct? We are looking deeply at how we can take approaches to this work that decolonize it. These are loaded terms, so I’m being careful.
I will speak to one concrete example. There is a table, globally, of the large implementing organizations around the world, so it includes Oxfam, CARE, Plan, IRC, Mercy Corps. About 10 organizations are in active conversation with a number of civil society organizations from the global South who are really driving this conversation from the global South. It is an uncomfortable conversation, but hopefully out of uncomfortable conversations comes social justice.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We’re running against the clock. Last question goes to Senator M. Deacon.
Senator M. Deacon: My question was similar to Senator Ataullahjan’s. In the interests of time, I will make a statement. A report from Freedom House tells us the quality of democracy and respect for human rights deteriorated as the pandemic began. I am hopeful that Canada will help us move this back to the democratic norms we need and deal with issues beyond money, such as structures. I will leave it as a statement.
The Chair: Thank you very much, senator, and a good statement it is.
I would like to thank our four witnesses for a very rich discussion that we had today. Very timely, and welcome, and obviously, these are issues that we cannot solve but will be looking at discussing in the future.
I would also like to thank Mr. Brian Hermon, our analyst, who has provided us with background documentation for this meeting, the technical staff and interpreters. As there are no other items, colleagues, I will adjourn, but just to say if everything goes according to plan and there are a lot of ifs, of course, our next meeting will be held on Thursday, June 10, at 11:30 a.m. eastern time.
With that the meeting is adjourned. Thank you to witnesses and senators.