The United Nations and Canada

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The World Federalist Movement – Canada (WFMC) is a not-for-profit research, education and advocacy organization. World Federalists support the application of the principles of federalism to world affairs, in order that global governance becomes more equitable, just and democratically accountable. Our programs cover Peace and Security, Global Democratization, Responsibility to Protect and Global Governance Reforms.

Articles from the 2013 edition



Warren Allmand

The United Nations: A Respect for Human Rights is Essential for Peace

When the United Nations was established in 1945, there was a strong belief that the new international order should be built on a foundation of human rights. The Charter included several significant provisions to this end. Soon a number of important human rights instruments were adopted, most notably the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with Canada’s John Humphrey playing a leading role.The UN’s human rights machinery has evolved and improved over the years, although it is still far from perfect. But the solution is not to weaken or dissolve the UN. Our goal must be to strengthen the implementation procedures and oversight mechanisms.

Canada in the past has shown great leadership in supporting the UN’s peacekeeping, development and human rights programs. This is a proud tradition, which should be enhanced and continued.

Lloyd Axworthy

Canada, the UN and the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P)

At the end of the last century, some will remember, Canada held a first-row seat as some of the most new and innovative initiatives in the promotion of international peace, security and the protection of human rights and civilian lives. One of these initiatives was helping to launch the idea of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). After languishing as an idea for nearly a decade, the uprisings brought about by the Arab Spring have reignited a newfound interest in discussion around intervening for the protection of civilians. Canada should once again play a diplomatic role in the institutionalization and application of the concept.

Michael Byers

The UN and the Law of the Sea: from the Arctic to the South China Sea

A US-flagged ice-strengthened super-tanker, the SS Manhattan, sailed through the Northwest Passage in 1969 without seeking Canada’s permission. Canada’s diplomats immediately set to work, crafting a strategy to protect this country’s interests in the event of further challenges to our Northwest Passage claim. Central to the strategy was a close involvement in the negotiation and drafting of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. As a result of Canadian leadership, Article 234 of the Convention allows coastal states to enact laws against maritime pollution out to 200 nautical miles from shore in the Arctic. Canadian leadership also resulted in provisions of the UN Convention that provide coastal states with extensive jurisdiction over seabed resources, a matter of no small importance to Canada which has the longest coastline of any country. From the Arctic to the South China Sea, countries around the world accepted the validity of these rules today. And when differences of opinion arise, they do so within a legal framework, which reduces the risk of armed conflict.

Ferry de Kerckhove

Canada and International Organizations: Time for Better Recognition

The Government of Canada has a difficult relationship with the multilateral world. It prefers intergovernmental groupings where major players’ consensus is the rule. It paid a price such as its defeat in its UN Security Council campaign. There was a feeling at the UN that, with its multilateralism “à la carte”, Canada had renounced some of the tenets which gave it credibility on the international stage.

The Government should a) manage itself out of its frustrations with multilateral convoluted processes; b) recommit Canada to the painstakingly built architecture of functional organizations; and c) undertake an open-minded review of all the international/multilateral organizations Canada belongs to.

Walter Dorn

Unprepared for Peace: A Decade of Decline in Canadian Peacekeeping

Canada’s international reputation as a prolific and proficient peacekeeper has been in decline for over a decade, owing to the country’s disengagement with peacekeeping operations. This loss of experience abroad is compounded by the loss of training at home, leaving Canada unprepared to re-engage with UN peacekeeping at the level it once did. As the peacekeeping veterans from the 1990’s retire, and as the courses and exercise that were developed to prepare officers for the unique challenges of peacekeeping deployment are cut, Canada’s future foreign policy options are being undermined and narrowed. In the event that national and international demands in the post-Afghanistan era shift back to UN operations, the Canadian Forces and government need to be ready. To be properly prepared for peace, Canada requires major changes to its training and preparations, as well as a mindset that is once again open to serving the cause of peacekeeping in a constructive and progressive fashion.

Yves Fortier

Canada and the Security Council, Then and Now: A View from Within

On 1 January 1989, I had the privilege, as Ambassador to the United Nations in New York, of commencing a two-year term as Canada’s Representative on the U.N. Security Council. It is with immense pride that I recall the intensive campaign, spearheaded by Prime Minister Mulroney, that resulted in Canada’s election to the Security Council in October 1988. Indeed, Canada’s was the most successful, competitive non-permanent member election in UNSC history.

Amongst Member States it came to be accepted that every ten years or so, Canada, because it was such an active and constructive participant at the UN could expect to be asked by its peers to sit at this exclusive table. And in 1998, Canada was elected again for a sixth term on the Council.

How times have changed! With many other Canadians, I was chagrined in October 2010 to learn that, for the first time in over 60 years, Canada had failed to be elected to the Council. On the basis of my experience, I can assert categorically that it is far preferable to be in the tent with a voice that is respected in the deliberations of the Council than to be outside the tent sulking in a corner.

Robert Fowler

Why Canada was Not Elected to the Security Council Two Years ago, and Why We Will Never be Elected Unless and Until There is a Fundamental Change, Across the Board, in Our Foreign Policy

The “me-first,” insensitive policies of the current government have caused irreparable harm to Canada’s reputation at the United Nations, including our bid three years ago for a seventh term on the UN Security Council.

Canadian environmental policy remains a fiasco. Canada had taken strong stands in the global effort to combat environmental degradation, beginning in Stockholm in 1972, and worked hard to build momentum behind efforts to create a global climate treaty. Our decision in December 2011 to become the first nation to withdraw from Kyoto represented a blow to our international reputation from which we have not begun to recover.

But there are numerous other examples. From an “Israel right or wrong” policy on the Middle East to a statistically irrelevant contribution to UN peacekeeping, there is little wonder why Canada has lost support and why our reputation will not be restored until Canada adopts positions on international issues that are seen to be good for the world as well as good for Canada.

Gilles Gingras

The UN, Canada and the International Civil Aviation Organization

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) counts 191 member states. The ICAO sets the standards and regulations of international civil aviation to ensure security (against terrorism), safety (accident prevention) and environmental protection. The implementation of the standards and systems adopted by the ICAO protects human lives every day, all over the world. Unfortunately, most Canadians are unaware of the existence of the ICAO and its headquarters in Canada – and even less aware of its strategic and essential role in ensuring peace and security in the world.

The ICAO is the key piece in the Montreal aerospace sector, which employs 42,500 people and posts annual sales of $12.1 billion, 80% from exports. Along with Toulouse and Seattle, Montreal is one of the major world centres in the aerospace industry.

Last spring, the unsuccessful bid by Qatar upped the ante. The ICAO obtained additional support from Ottawa and Quebec to the tune of some $80 million, along with broader tax exemptions and greater flexibility in obtaining visas for members of foreign delegations, thus resolving two of the irritants raised by Qatar to justify its proposal to move the ICAO HQ to Doha.

During their UN interventions, the Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Canada’s Ambassador to the UN should make it a point of honour to remind listeners that Canada hosts the ICAO Headquarters and that all Canadians are proud of this contribution to peace and security around the world. Canada should also take a clear position on the reduction of carbon emissions by civil aviation, an environmental issue that the ICAO aims to regulate.

Peter Langille

Preparing for Peace

Canadian contributions to peace have declined with the new emphasis on war-fighting. Yet to prevent armed conflict and protect civilians in an over-armed, interdependent world, we are likely to need an empowered United Nations, just as the Organization now needs better Canadian efforts. Two transformations are required. The Canadian Forces already have critically important assets and could promptly be re-directed to support UN peace operations. Second, Canada could again lead in supporting the development of a UN Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS) – a standing ‘UN 911’ to ensure rapid and reliable responses to fast-breaking crises.

Carolyn McAskie

Canada’s Self-Interest and the United Nations

If one of a government’s primary responsibilities is to protect its interests in the world, the current Canadian Government’s shunning of international institutions, particularly the United Nations, is difficult to understand. In a globalized world of trade, economic risk, political and security uncertainties, interlinked environmental and health effects along with emerging humanitarian crises and pressing development needs, it is virtually impossible for any one government to “go it alone”.

It is in the various UN bodies – political, security, environmental, development, and humanitarian – that the international community can best develop the interventions required to address the complex global problems of today. Historians refer to two (or three) UNs: the member states, the Secretariats (and international civil society). But it is member states which run the show and pay the piper. When “the UN” can’t agree on a course of action, it is because UN member states cannot or will not agree. Canada must, therefore, take up its responsibility as a member state.

Instead we see a “principled foreign policy” which focuses narrowly on short term interests, but which in fact works against Canada’s longer term self-interests of peace, security and commerce.

Marilou McPhedran

The UN, UN Women and Canada

UN Women is still the new girl on the UN block of agencies – formed out of the international GEAR (Gender Equality Architecture Reform) campaign of women’s grass roots advocacy as the much needed amalgam of four diffused (often disagreeing) UN bodies – promising genuine inclusion of women’s civil society organizations. Over 50 civil society leaders met UN Women in August to stress that women’s sexual and reproductive rights must be understood in the human rights framework. Why this emphasis on sexual and reproductive rights and why do women’s rights leaders look to the UN to make positive changes so that women’s human rights are actually “lived rights”?

The bodies of women and girls are the pages of the book on women’s rights; control and power are the central theme. When the Optional Protocol to the major UN treaty on women’s rights – CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women) – was being negotiated in 1998, American diplomats (under President George W. Bush) usually sat with and voted with representatives who consistently opposed women’s reproductive rights . Fast forward to June of this year in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where I saw diplomats from the United States proposing a crucial amendment on women’s reproductive rights to the Canadian resolution. But this time it was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s people that said “no” to listing critical sexual and reproductive health services that survivors of sexual violence must have access to, such as emergency contraception, safe abortion, post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV, and screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.

Errol Mendes

Canada, its Human Rights Record and the UN

Canada used to be regarded as a human rights and rule of law champion within Canada, at the UN and around the world. This allowed Canada to punch above it weight at the UN and in the international community. This legacy led to historic accomplishments such as the Nobel Peace Prize for Peacekeeping, the Ottawa Land Mines Treaty, a Conservative Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney leading the fight against Apartheid along with his leadership in the creation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the creation of the G20 by former Prime Minister Paul Martin, the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, shepherded through the UN 2005 World Summit by former Canadian Ambassador Allan Rock and Canadian foreign affairs official Philippe Kirsch being instrumental in the creation of the International Criminal Court.

Sadly in this 65th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration, the human rights and rule of law reputation of Canada is fast diminishing, in part because the world is getting to know how the Conservative government of Stephen Harper undermines those values at home, which brings repercussions at the UN and around the world. This article lists the most egregious examples of how the Conservatives have undermined Canada’s human rights reputation at the UN and internationally.

Douglas Roche

Canada’s Role in Banning Nuclear Weapons

Canada should implement the motion adopted unanimously by both the Senate and House of Commons calling on the government to support UN SecretaryGeneral Ban Ki-moon’s Five Point Plan for Nuclear Disarmament, centering on a Nuclear Weapons Convention or framework of instruments to eliminate all nuclear weapons. The Middle Powers Initiative is ready to hold a meeting in Ottawa of likeminded states to work on preparations for a global ban.  Many parliamentarians and nearly 700 members of the Order of Canada fully support this.

Julia Sanchez

Civil Society, Canada and the United Nations: Partnering for the Future

In 2015, global leaders will meet at the United Nations to establish a new framework for global development that will succeed the Millennium Development Goals – one that will hopefully leave no one behind, be it in Canada or Cameroon. On September 25, governments will meet in New York to determine how to get there. Crucial to the post-2015 framework is the establishment of a global partnership to manage the implementation of this international agenda – and one that puts equitable partnership, meaningful participation and shared responsibility at its heart. Governments alone are not up to this task. Civil society must also be there, along with other development actors. More inclusive global processes are possible. The UN is the key player in this process, and member states like

Canada must provide their full support to ensure a new framework that is as ambitious as the challenges that the world still faces.

Ian Smillie

The United Nations and Humanitarian Assistance

Globally, more than half of all emergency assistance is managed by UN agencies, primarily the World Food Program and UNHCR. Governments have little delivery capacity and the NGO contribution, while important, is patchy and uncoordinated. UN agencies act as a focal point for funders; they serve as coordinators, managers and front-line delivery agencies. They are often the first to arrive and the last to leave, and are frequently the only serious humanitarian delivery mechanism in some of the world’s toughest emergencies.

It is still insufficient. The challenge for UN member states, including Canada, is to find ways to build, strengthen and improve the UN’s herculean response to humanitarian need.

John Trent

Re-thinking the UN

Canada should help the world to rethink the United Nations, with the intention of creating legitimate and effective institutions for world governance. This should become a priority policy program of the Department of Foreign Affairs in coordination with like-minded countries. The policy program would have to be based on public input and the cooperation of civil society associations. The aim is to develop publicly supported policies for an improved set of international organizations capable of making authoritative decisions about global challenges ranging from climate change to terrorism and financial crises. Such institutions will conform to techniques of modern democratic statecraft including: constitutional federalism, elections, liberalism, rule of law, and decentralized governance.

Kate White

Where is Canada in helping set the international development agenda for the next two decades?

This is a critical juncture as the world looks to formulate a Post 2015 Development Agenda that will succeed the UN’s Millennium Development Goals of 2000. As in the past, the Government of Canada can engage in this global conversation, providing leadership and investment in the global decision-making process.

To add a strategic contribution Canada should 1) recognize the power of the UN for this important dialogue leading to global change – and abandon language casting the UN as merely a ‘talk shop’; 2) lead on Canada’s innovation on private/public partnerships in development; 3) lead on addressing climate change mitigation and adaptation – as many of our provinces have – in order to change the channel and showcase innovation; and 4) in collaboration with civil society leaders and academics, invest in a whole of government approach to the development and implementation of the new development agenda.

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