Address by Minister Paradis: Canadian Humanitarian Conference

October 30, 2013 — OTTAWA

Good morning. It's my pleasure to join you today.

Only a few months ago, in early July, I had first-hand experience with a humanitarian response—not in Africa, Asia, or the Americas, but in Lac Megantic, Quebec—in my own constituency, following the devastating train explosion there.

I remember how quickly the Canadian Red Cross moved in to help. In particular, I was struck by the professionalism, dedication and compassion of the Red Cross volunteers during that difficult period. I know the citizens of Lac Megantic felt the same way.

Today, I stand in admiration of that same unwavering humanitarian commitment to help others in places like Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Haiti. And I'm inspired to know that Canadian humanitarian workers are there, day after day, year after year, putting their lives at risk to help those who need their help most. 

Your compassion and concern for people suffering from circumstances beyond their control reflect the humanitarian values held by all Canadians.   

With that in mind, I am delighted to see so many of you here today—working together to strengthen our collective response to humanitarian crises.

International humanitarian assistance is a priority of the Government of Canada.

Canada is committed to providing humanitarian assistance based on need, and in a timely and equitable way.

The newly amalgamated Department of Foreign affairs, Trade and Development will enhance the way the Government of Canada responds to crises. This amalgamation allows us to better align our approach and work more efficiently.

We expect this to result in better outcomes for those receiving our assistance, and greater accountability to Canadians.

As this amalgamation moves forward, we will continue to respond quickly and effectively to humanitarian crises.

Nowhere is this more evident right now than in our response to the conflict in Syria. To date, Canada has provided more than 200 million dollars to address the urgent needs of nearly 7 million people in Syria affected by the conflict, and over 2 million refugees in neighbouring countries.

As you all know, the situation in Syria is tremendously complex. And for the humanitarian community, it has underlined a number of critical challenges.

To begin with, Canada is deeply concerned about the need to better protect civilians in crisis situations. In Syria, as in many other conflicts, civilians continue to suffer the greatest consequences. Innocent people are routinely killed. Rape, abuse and exploitation are constant threats for women and girls.

We must do more to protect civilians in these situations.

First, we must continue to strengthen international legal frameworks.

Second, we need to create safer environments when we are delivering assistance.

Third, we must provide better support to people affected by violence.     

We also need to work hard to break down barriers between the people who provide assistance and those who are in need.

The intentional denial of life-saving assistance is a deplorable act, and Canada will continue to be a strong voice calling for full, safe and unhindered access for humanitarian organizations.

Safe access also means that acts of violence against humanitarian workers must stop.

Syria has been a sobering reminder of the growing risks faced by humanitarian workers. Since the start of the conflict, 22 Red Cross workers and 11 United Nations staff members have lost their lives.

I am appalled that those whose mission it is to help others are often deliberately targeted. The loss of a single humanitarian worker is unacceptable, and Canada strongly condemns these acts.

These violations of international humanitarian law are not unique to Syria. From one crisis to the next, the right to protection for civilians, including humanitarian workers, is often ignored. Just as the right of humanitarian access is often denied.

As we strive to protect this humanitarian space, the promotion of core humanitarian principles will be critical. For this reason, Canada will continue to stress the impartiality, neutrality and independence of its humanitarian partners.

Protecting humanitarian space is clearly fundamental, but we cannot stop there. To improve results on the ground, we must continue to be more effective and efficient. We have made a lot of progress in recent years, but we can do better.

Moving forward, our success will depend on our commitment to move beyond conventional approaches. Constant adaptation and innovation will be essential. And new technologies must go hand-in-hand with stronger partnerships to help drive this change forward.

For example, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' "Light Years Ahead" project is helping to make refugee camps safer at night, especially for women and girls, by installing solar street lights. Our government is also supporting World Vision's Last Mile Mobile Solutions, which uses mobile technology to improve the speed and efficiency of aid distributions.

The private sector offers tremendous potential to increase our capacity to respond. However, its resources remain largely untapped.

Deeper engagement with national and local partners will also be important.

In Lac Megantic, I saw the value of a local response. It mattered that the Canadian Red Cross was there. By helping to build local preparedness and response capacity, we can help build resilience.

The most effective response is one that helps avoid the need for ongoing humanitarian assistance altogether. More strategic approaches are needed to help communities transition from a state of crisis to a path of sustainable development. The humanitarian community is only one piece in this complex puzzle, but it will play a key role in designing innovative solutions.

The international humanitarian response system provides vital support for all of these efforts. But as humanitarian environments become more complex, the system will need constant reinforcement, if it is to remain more than the sum of its parts.

Lastly, but not least, transparency and accountability must be at the centre of our efforts. We need to place greater emphasis on the achievement of results, including a better understanding of our overall impact.  

We have an enormous task ahead of us.

But by working more closely together, we will be better placed to overcome both old and new challenges.

Today's conference is an opportunity to strengthen our collaboration and build the evidence base for Canadian humanitarian action.

Canada and Canadians are proud of their track record of being there for people in need.

Your participation today tells me that this will not change—and for that, I am grateful.

Thank you.

Christian Paradis
Minister of International Development and Minister for La Francophonie