Statement by Minister Paradis on Canada’s Commitment to Protect and Promote an Enabling Environment for Civil Society

April 17, 2014 – The Honourable Christian Paradis, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, today issued the following statement:

“Canada recognizes and supports the vital role that civil society plays in reaching development objectives. Civil society engages citizens in their countries’ decision-making processes that affect them. Empowered by the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly, civil society enables citizens to hold their governments to account, providing legitimacy to the governing institutions, which in turn ensures growth and sustainable development and reduces poverty.

“Nearly 2.4 billion people around the globe continue to live in regimes where they have little or no say in who leads their country or in how they are governed. Recently, we have seen an increasing trend of states attempting to close the democratic space and restrict the rights of free of expression and assembly—introducing laws and regulations that undermine civil society's independence, restricting access to foreign assistance, limiting the scope of activities and ability to organize, and imposing prohibitive registration and reporting requirements on the community.

“Canada has committed to “deepen, extend and operationalize the democratic ownership of development policies and processes” and to make multistakeholder partnership models the norm. Inclusive development, underpinned by democratic ownership, is essential to building a Post-2015 Development Agenda that delivers results.

“Canada has a strong track record of support for civil society, one that is recognized around the world and can serve as a model to other nations. As recently mentioned by His Highness the Aga Khan, ‘Canada is uniquely able to articulate and exemplify three critical underpinnings of a quality civil society—a commitment to pluralism, to meritocracy, and to a cosmopolitan ethic.’

“It is because of these values that Canada is working hard to protect and promote a democratic space for civil society around the globe. Since 2009, Canada has participated in the Task Team on CSO Development Effectiveness and Enabling Environment and has chaired the multistakeholder Community of Democracies’ Working Group on Enabling and Protecting Civil Society.

“Through its role as Chair of the Working Group, Canada coordinates global actions to counter legislation that restricts civil society. By engaging in principled diplomacy, advocacy and technical assistance activities, we will continue to oppose the adoption of restrictive laws that target civil society, and to support the development and implementation of enabling laws that empower civil society to thrive.

“Going forward, we will continue our commitment to advancing freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law around the world by protecting and promoting an enabling environment for civil society—in law, in policy and in practice. To that end we recognize the need to:

  • Ensure that civil society is included in the development, reform, implementation and monitoring of legal, policy and regulatory regimes that target civil society.
  • Promote, protect and respect fundamental rights and freedoms, particularly the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, the right to free association, the right to freedom of expression, and the freedom to communicate and cooperate with others in all sectors, within and across borders. This right includes cooperation in coalitions and networks using all forms of communication.
  • Ensure the judicious application and monitoring of the rule of law, preventing human rights abuse and protecting human rights defenders against harassment and violence, taking account of special circumstances of human rights defenders for religious freedoms, women and children.
  • Protect the democratic space to ensure that civil society can operate free from unwarranted state intrusion in their affairs; pursue a broad range of self-defined objectives; and seek and secure funding from domestic, foreign and international sources.
  • Support civil society to strengthen their own development effectiveness, consistent with the Istanbul Principles, including enhancing their transparency and accountability.

“Canada believes donors have a responsibility to promote an enabling environment for civil society. Canada intends to provide predictable, equitable and transparent funding opportunities through different modalities that support the diverse roles of civil society; and to promote a multistakeholder dialogue to inform and facilitate a diversity of perspectives and approaches.

“Canada is focused on delivering results for those in need around the world. We will continue to pursue inclusive and sustainable development worldwide by promoting and protecting an enabling environment for civil society. We will encourage other development partners to do the same. And we will ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable people, including women and children, are at the core of the Post-2015 Development Agenda.”

Christian Paradis
Minister of International Development and La Francophonie