Honourable senators, June 28 is the one hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles by 33 countries, including, for the first time, Canada. This was the treaty that ended the First World War.
I wanted to call to mind this historic event because it was Canada’s first foreign policy action on the international stage as a fully sovereign nation.
The centennial of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles next week offers an opportunity to reflect on Canada’s roots as a fully sovereign nation. Through its participation in the war, Canada no longer wanted to be treated as a British colony. It felt it had reached the maturity of a country that could claim international sovereignty for itself, and we know what “international sovereignty” means. It is essentially the power to declare war and the power to sign for peace.
Canada did not declare war in 1914. Britain did so on behalf of Canada. But because of the magnitude of its war effort, Canada claimed it had the maturity to sign the peace treaty under its own name. There was resistance in some British circles, and also from the Americans, where it was argued that Britain should be the only one to sign on behalf of all the dominions. However, Prime Minister Robert Borden insisted successfully that Canada had the sovereign capacity to sign. Thus, the Dominion of Canada was clearly identified on the document and two Canadian ministers signed on its behalf.
Canada’s distinct signature in 1919 was of paramount importance. The Treaty of Versailles created the League of Nations, a new international body established to prevent another world conflict. Canada, on its own, became a founding member of the League of Nations.
In 1925, it was a Canadian senator, Senator Raoul Dandurand, who became president of the League of Nations General Assembly. In 1927, Canada occupied one of the seats on its executive council, again represented by the Senator Dandurand, who remained deeply involved in the international affairs for the country for the next two years.
We should be thankful to the government of Sir Robert Borden, which spearheaded Canada’s signature on the Versailles treaty in June 1919, and certainly to Senator Dandurand who, until his death in 1942, remained one of Canada’s most powerful voices on the international stage.
Honourable senators, the bust of Senator Dandurand, which had been displayed in a Senate meeting room in Centre Block, has not been moved here. It should be brought back to this building and rightly displayed in a location close to our chamber.
Let us be proud of our remarkable predecessor, who contributed to build the reputation of Canada as a country that strives for world peace and the respect of human rights.