The Senate

Motion to Urge Government to Call Upon Current Parties to the Act of the International Conference on Viet-Nam to Agree to the Reconvention of the International Conference on Viet-Nam Negatived

December 14, 2021

Hon. Peter M. Boehm

Honourable senators, I would like to thank Senator Ngo for bringing this motion forward. The issue, both in the context of the Journey to Freedom Day Act of 2015 and the application of the agreement on ending the war and restoring peace in Vietnam, and its protocols, known as the Paris Peace Accords of 1975, is of great concern to our colleague and, indeed, to many Canadians of Vietnamese origin — as well it should be.

Indeed, countless people like Senator Ngo and thousands of Vietnamese first came to our shores fleeing conflict and/or persecution. The reasons to leave were traumatic enough, to say nothing of the journey to a new land and ultimately arriving in a strange new place to call home, where refugees face new challenges.

My parents faced a similar situation in losing their land, property and possessions during World War II, after which they came to Canada as refugees. We are all touched by such stories; they are integral to the fabric and the folk memory of so many Canadians.

Nonetheless, while I appreciate the spirit of this motion, I oppose its passage. I will explain why.

Colleagues, this motion calls upon the Government of Canada to reconvene a meeting of the International Conference on Viet-Nam to discuss events that took place 45 years ago, within the framework of that treaty, and of that conference that is just as old. Further, some of the members with which Canada worked at the time, such as Hungary and Poland, were then part of the Soviet bloc. Things have changed somewhat in 45 years, including the fall of the U.S.S.R., which among other points, resulted in these countries completely changing their constitutions and systems of government.

It is not clear to me why Canada should expend great energy, not to mention international political capital, to re-engage in a discussion for which, in my view, there would not be much appetite from other parties to reopen. Also, I do not know what will be included in the government’s forthcoming Indo-Pacific strategy, but I would wager that reconvening the International Conference on Viet-Nam will not be in it, and I am not a betting man.

In bilateral terms — that is, the relationship between Canada and Vietnam — I am convinced that this motion would be seen in a negative light by Vietnam, a country with which Canada has enjoyed friendship and cooperation for many decades. That is no small thing, colleagues. Vietnam is a member of the ASEAN group with which both the government of Prime Minister Harper and the current government have sought to achieve closer ties. Vietnam, along with Canada, is a member of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, otherwise known as the CPTPP, that is already showing positive signs for both countries and, indeed, all members. Our two-way trade last year was nearly $9 billion, making Vietnam Canada’s largest trading partner among ASEAN countries.

Would it not be more constructive for Canada to focus on developing our positive relationship with Vietnam within the framework of the Canada-Vietnam partnership, where there can be engagement on a comprehensive agenda that could, and in fact does, include economic and political reforms?

Symbolic gestures — and this motion represents just that — can have negative consequences. I have made this important point in the chamber before, colleagues.

I would also note that our dialogue with the government of Vietnam includes larger geostrategic questions, military cooperation that concerns Vietnam, scientific and academic cooperation, clean technologies and cooperation on the Green Climate Fund. It also includes discussions about the ASEAN countries, large neighbouring countries and the wider Pacific region.

We need to work with friends and allies all over the world, the Indo-Pacific region being no exception, particularly when we see ourselves aggrieved or unfairly treated by other countries. Canada has had some recent experience in this regard.

In his speech supporting the motion, our colleague Senator Patterson referred to the international rules-based order. We have had one since 1945 through the United Nations and the Bretton Woods Institutions, and it has changed and expanded over the years with decolonization; the development of regional groupings and alliances, in many of which Canada enjoys membership; the collapse of the Soviet Union; the development of the European Union; regular global and regional summits; and the list goes on.

The end of the Vietnam War falls into that rubric.

There are international norms and rules that are set out that should be followed by all countries. We all know this is not always the case.

I recognize that the concern expressed by Senators Ngo and Patterson revolve around human rights and the development of Vietnam since the peace treaty was signed. Various Canadian governments have, in the interval, raised these issues with the government since 1975, in bilateral terms. But what I consider very important is the multilateral element, as shown in the Universal Periodic Review that Canada had undertaken in the UN system to assess Vietnam’s efforts on human rights and the harmonization of its laws with international standards. That is the development in the UN system that has also occurred since 1975, when the peace treaties were signed.

In the last round in 2019, Canada recommended that Vietnam revise its penal code and cybersecurity laws to align with international standards for freedom of expression, association and assembly; to ensure due process rights and the right to a fair trial; to allow religious groups to practise freely; and to allow for the establishment of independent labour unions and gender-equality issues.

That is the way to achieve progress, colleagues: peer review and multilateral engagement, the push that the CPTPP brings today for all parties to step up and continue bilateral dialogue. The solution is not to return to an instrument from 45 years ago, regardless of any perceived symbolic value or reassurance and hope it might provide to our valued and respected community of Vietnamese Canadians, of which our dear colleague is an illustrious member.

Honourable senators, the chances of getting six parties to the Act of the International Conference on Viet-Nam to agree to reopen the conference are well nigh impossible.

As I have said before with respect to motions on international affairs in this chamber, we must keep in mind that the management of Canada’s international affairs falls within the Royal Prerogative. While the Senate and the House of Commons can certainly provide indications of what should be done, what actually can be done resides solely with the government of the day.

If we pass motions, they need to be realistic and reflect well on our institution — the Senate of Canada. I don’t think this one does.

In my view, our government would need to think long and hard before committing its international political capital toward returning to an issue that, for many people and countries, was settled long ago.

It is for those reasons that, with the greatest respect for our colleague Senator Ngo, I oppose this motion.

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate)

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak briefly to the motion brought forward by our colleague Senator Ngo.

Over the years, Senator Ngo has provided a voice to issues close to his heart and has done so with honesty and passion. This motion is no different. This chamber — and I will presume to speak for this chamber — but I, speaking personally, thank Senator Ngo for his contributions over the years. We will miss his interventions.

The government agrees with Senator Ngo that Canada has a vested interest in continuing to uphold stability, peace and democracy in Asia. However, the government does not agree with the method being proposed by Senator Ngo in Motion No. 13.

Canada’s relationship with Vietnam has developed significantly over the years. Vietnam is an important bilateral, regional and multilateral partner for Canada. The relationship between our two countries was recently strengthened, mainly due to the establishment of a comprehensive partnership during the Prime Minister’s visit to Vietnam in 2017.

The comprehensive partnership strengthens cooperation in several key areas, including political and diplomatic engagement; trade and investment; development assistance; defence and security; cultural and academic exchanges; science, technology and innovation; and people-to-people ties. This partnership aims to meet both our countries’ priorities, contributes to upholding the rule of law, and to maintaining peace and stability in Southeast Asia and in the Indo-Pacific region.

The government believes that it would be more constructive for Canada to focus on the 2017 comprehensive partnership with Vietnam. As we approach 2023, the fiftieth anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and Vietnam, it is vital that we maintain the positive momentum with Vietnam. The Government of Canada will continue to support Vietnam’s progress and to advocate for improved human rights and democracy through this partnership.

Canada will also continue to support stability, peace and democracy through the existing and growing avenues at our disposal. This includes leveraging our comprehensive partnership with Vietnam, as well as our relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN.

Canada has been a dialogue partner of ASEAN since 1977. We are one of only ten countries with this designation. Canada cooperates on political and security issues, regional integration and economic interests. We also provide security assistance to ASEAN member states, which contributes to regional peace and security and promotes Canadian foreign policy objectives in Southeast Asia.

In addition, Canada supports ASEAN’s regional development priorities. Our assistance is used to promote and protect human rights, inclusive governance and peaceful pluralism.

To support our work with ASEAN, Canada has both a dedicated mission and an ambassador to ASEAN. As an example, the government is pleased to see that ASEAN members and China have resumed negotiations to develop a code of conduct for the South China Sea. Canada encourages transparency in these negotiations and reiterates that the agreement should not derogate from the rights that parties enjoy under international law or prejudice the rights of third parties.

The government does not agree that the Act of the International Conference remains a viable diplomatic tool for settling disputes or an effective mechanism for initiating negotiations on urgent geopolitical issues, such as developing a code of conduct for the South China Sea.

Reconvening the international conference, in Canada’s judgment, is not an appropriate avenue to uphold stability, peace and democracy in Asia at this time. Moreover, the government does not see a compelling policy rationale to consider reconvening the conference after so many years, as Senator Boehm underlined in his remarks. We have moved on and, frankly, such a motion might very well undermine Canada’s bilateral relationship with Vietnam.

As well, we should take into consideration how such a motion could affect the bilateral relationships between Vietnam and parties to the act. Resuming the conference could, in fact, have a negative impact on the decades-long friendship and cooperation between Canada and Vietnam. Canada will continue to advance its relationship with Vietnam and consistently advocate for peace, stability, diplomacy and the upholding of international obligations.

For all of the reasons mentioned, the government respectfully is unable to support Motion No. 13. However, this chamber should be assured that Canada values its relationship with Vietnam and views Vietnam as a friend and partner in the region. Our two countries will continue to work closely together in multilateral fora. Thank you.

Hon. Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition)

Honourable senators, I am pleased to speak in support of my colleague Senator Thanh Hai Ngo and his motion to urge the Government of Canada to call upon six or more of the current parties to the Act of the International Conference on Viet-Nam — which includes Canada, France, Hungary, Indonesia, Poland, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, amongst others — to agree to reconvening the International Conference on Viet-Nam, pursuant to Article 7(b) of the act in order to settle disputes between the signatory parties due to violations of the terms of the Paris Peace Accords and the Act of the International Conference on Viet-Nam.

When World War II ended, there was rejoicing throughout the world. The most horrific war in world history had ended, the axis tyrants were defeated and the hope of freedom to many previously occupied countries like Korea — the country of my birth — and colonial possessions, like India, were on the rise.

Yet the conflict that had so thoroughly ravaged the world for nearly a decade had never really ended in Asia. In the 75 years since the end of World War II, there have been 63 military confrontations in Asia, including major wars in China, Korea, India, Pakistan and Vietnam — nearly one for every year.

As a Canadian of Korean descent, I can tell you first-hand the impact war has on a country and its people — the lingering pain of the loss of missing generations, survivor’s guilt when friends and family perish, the impact of suffering on the children of war and the legacy of that agony passed on to subsequent generations.

Peace treaties are signed; some are upheld and others, like the Paris Peace Accords, are not. The accords included the governments of the democratic people of Vietnam — North Vietnam, the Republic of Vietnam, South Vietnam — and the United States, as well as the Republic of South Vietnam, PRG, which represented South Vietnamese communists. The accords were an effort to end the conflict and bring peace to the region. The Paris Peace Accords provisions were immediately and frequently broken, with no official response from the United States.

In March 1973, fighting resumed and North Vietnamese offences enlarged their control by the end of the year. In 1975, a massive North Vietnamese offensive finally conquered South Vietnam. On July 2, 1976, the two countries — separated since 1954 — ceased to exist and in its place was born the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Conflict continues to escalate in the region around the South China Sea, which includes signatories to the accord. As Senator Ngo so rightly pointed out in his speech in the Senate on November 25, the Paris Peace Accords remain a valuable diplomatic tool for the resolution of disputes between the signatory parties. It is worth repeating what Senator Ngo said:

Ultimately, if there is consensus among the parties that the Paris Agreement continues to be in force, it can be reopened and renegotiated. The same applies to the act; in its case, it would allow for the international conference to be reconvened in accordance with Article 7(b).

Reconvening this international conference can also be a valuable mechanism in initiating negotiations in some of the most pressing geopolitical issues in Asia today, such as the South China Sea dispute.

Canada, as one of the signatories, has the opportunity to reopen this important debate. Canada has always prided itself on our peacekeeping commitments and peacemaking talent.

Honourable senators, in an effort to spare another generation of children who will witness the atrocities of war, be ripped from their families and unintentionally pass their suffering on to their children, I wholeheartedly support Senator Ngo’s motion. He has long been a champion of human rights, freedom and democracy. As the first Canadian senator of Vietnamese descent, Senator Ngo is a respected national leader. Let us make the most of the opportunity that is before us — for Canada and for us, as the chamber of sober second thought — to adopt this important motion, moved by our colleague as the end of his distinguished Senate tenure draws near. His immeasurable courage that powered his journey to freedom to Canada after the fall of Saigon in 1975 and his resoluteness in getting his Senate public bill, Bill S-219, Journey to Freedom Day Act, enacted into law in 2015, are only surpassed by his hope and commitment to human rights, freedom and democracy for all people.

With that, I hope that honourable senators will support this motion as proposed by our colleague Senator Thanh Hai Ngo.

The Hon. the Speaker

Are senators ready for the question?

The Hon. the Speaker

If you are opposed to the motion, please say “no.”

The Hon. the Speaker

I hear a “no.” Those in favour of the motion who are in the Senate Chamber will please say “yea.”

The Hon. the Speaker

Those opposed to the motion who are in the Senate Chamber will please say “nay.”

The Hon. the Speaker

In my opinion, the “nays” have it.