Address by Minister of State Kent Marking Canada’s 20 Years in Organization of American States

No. 2010/9 - Ottawa, Ontario - March 8, 2010

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It is a pleasure for me to be here with you this evening as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Canada’s membership in the OAS [Organization of American States].

I would like to take this opportunity to formally thank all of the speakers in tonight’s program. We are particularly pleased that the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney is with us tonight—a true visionary who, 20 years ago as prime minister, articulated Canada’s desire to join the OAS and our determination to make constructive and mutually beneficial contributions to our hemisphere.

Thank you, Mr. Mulroney, for being with us this evening, and for sharing with us your thoughts on the historic decision that made Canada a respected, full member of the Americas.

Thank you also to my colleague [Minister of Foreign Affairs] Lawrence Cannon for presenting so clearly our government’s foreign policy.

It is clear that we are very much committed to deepening and broadening Canada’s engagement in the Americas, including through our involvement in global forums such as the G8 and G20.

I join Minister Cannon in extending our concerns about the disasters affecting the people of Chile and Haiti, and I thank OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza for that organization’s engagement, participation and leadership.

I also want to thank the OAS Secretary General for sharing his views on Canada’s contributions to the OAS, and for his personal dedication to our common causes.

Although Chile is going through a painful time, its robust democracy continues to flourish, and I am honoured that I have been asked to represent Canada at the inauguration this week of Chile’s new president, Sebastián Piñera.   

I have had the opportunity to be personally engaged in OAS diplomatic efforts to address the challenges confronting our neighbourhood for the past year and a half, and I can say without reservation that this is an organization that plays an unparalleled and highly valued role in advancing our collective interests.

As part of the current deepening of Canada’s engagement in the Americas, we are placing a strong emphasis on effective, results-oriented multilateralism. Canada has an abiding interest in ensuring that the OAS remains a credible and relevant organization, capable of effectively responding to the needs of all of its members. To this end, we are actively supporting efforts to better define common priorities for the OAS in the future and to ensure that the organization’s resources are aligned with those priorities.

As we move forward, it is important to recall the challenges we face in the hemisphere and the need to maintain a focus on the priorities of prosperity, security and democracy.

Within the OAS, the promotion and defence of human rights rank among Canada’s top priorities. Canada will continue to vigorously defend the integrity and independence of OAS human rights institutions, particularly in the face of efforts to weaken and discredit these important bodies. We will also continue our determined efforts to support the inclusion of civil society perspectives in the work of the OAS.

With regard to defending democracy, the adoption of the Inter-American Democratic Charter in 2001 should be seen as a landmark achievement.

Yet there has been since then, we must admit, some backsliding in parts of the region, and we must remain vigilant in defending our fundamental democratic principles. President Óscar Arias of Costa Rica reminded us all just last week in Cancún what democracy is. He said:

”... democracy means more than enacting political constitutions, signing democratic charters or celebrating periodic elections. It means building a reliable set of institutions, beyond the anemic structures that currently sustain our state apparatuses. It means guaranteeing the supremacy of the law and the effectiveness of the rule of law, which some insist on pole-vaulting.”

Canada is committed to working with the OAS to implement fully the Inter-American Democratic Charter in the region.

Canada currently chairs the OAS Committee on Hemispheric Security, and we vigorously support initiatives adopted at the OAS that focus on security issues in the hemisphere.

The promotion of democracy and of security are key areas where we see great opportunities for continued Canadian leadership in the OAS. My personal experiences in OAS mediation efforts in Honduras have helped me see first-hand the importance of well-structured dialogue aimed at resolving crises.

Canada is also fully committed to working in partnership with all other OAS member states to our collective benefit.

Twenty years ago, Prime Minister Mulroney committed Canada to playing a leadership role in the OAS and across the Americas. In 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper reiterated that commitment for the long term.

We look forward to articulating this commitment in the OAS with a view to promoting a safe and prosperous hemisphere founded upon democratic values and respect for human rights.

Thank you.