Address by Minister of State Kent at 20th Anniversary Commemoration of Canada’s Membership in OAS

No. 2010/94 - Washington, D.C. - November 10, 2010

Check Against Delivery

Twenty years ago, Canada made an important foreign-policy decision, one that would forever transform our relationship with our neighbours in the hemisphere.

Realizing how inextricably our fortunes were linked to those of our friends, former prime minister Brian Mulroney announced Canada’s intention to join the region’s foremost forum, the Organization of American States.

Canada’s commitment to this organization and to our hemisphere has only grown stronger in the ensuing years.

Today, more than ever, we understand that the prosperity of our economy, the robustness of our democracy and the security of our citizens are linked with those of our neighbours.

It was with this in mind that our prime minister, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, has made re-engagement in the region a key foreign-policy priority for Canada.

Our vision for the region is based on three interconnected and mutually reinforcing pillars: strengthening and reinforcing support for democratic governance, building a safe and secure hemisphere, and enhancing the prosperity of citizens.

As Canada celebrates its 20th anniversary of membership in the OAS and enters the fourth year of its Americas strategy, I can say without a doubt that our efforts in the region are bearing fruit.

On the democracy front, Canada has been working with governments in the region to make democracies more effective, transparent and accountable.

In the fall of 2009, we launched the Andean Unit for Democratic Governance in Lima, Peru, to support regional efforts to enhance good governance.

Strengthening the capacity of the OAS in the area of democracy support has been a priority throughout Canada’s two decades of membership in the OAS.

Shortly after joining the Organization, Canada proposed the establishment of the OAS Unit for the Promotion of Democracy. 

Since that time, we have supported reforms designed to promote transparency and best practices within the Organization.

In personal terms, I was honoured to have represented Canada within the group of OAS foreign ministers that travelled to Honduras in support of the effort to reach a peaceful, negotiated solution to the political impasse.

Participating in these missions allowed me to see first-hand the importance of well-structured dialogue aimed at resolving crises.

In that regard, I would like to reiterate Canada’s support of Honduran president [Porfirio] Lobo’s efforts as he moves to fully reintegrate his country into the international and hemispheric community. We look forward to working with all OAS members to establish a process through which Honduras can be fully reintegrated into the organization.

Canada will also 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 also look forward to constructive discussions on how the OAS can strengthen the implementation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

With regard to security, Canada’s main objective is to enhance regional stability, particularly by addressing the significant threats posed by organized crime.

Prior to the G8 Summit in Ontario earlier this year, Canada hosted a special outreach session that included Colombia, Haiti and Jamaica to discuss these challenges, in particular criminal groups and terrorist organizations cooperating across regions.

It was agreed that these “partnerships of convenience” are a serious and growing problem that require a coordinated and effective response.

In an attempt to address threats to security, Canada is making major investments on a number of fronts.

Last year, for example, we launched the Anti-Crime Capacity-Building Program, through which we are providing up to $15 million per year to projects that combat crime.

Projects funded through this program are wide-ranging in scope, and include training for law enforcement officials in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, as well as a program to crack down on the exploitation of shipping containers by transnational criminal groups.

We’ve also launched a regional office for peace and security based in Panama that is providing high-quality strategic analysis, assessment, and advice on security issues throughout the region, with a focus on Central America and the Caribbean.

Strengthening peace and security, of course, is one of the essential purposes of the OAS.

To support the efforts of the Organization in this regard, Canada is also providing resources that will expand and strengthen the capacity of the OAS to act as a facilitator and mediator of conflicts.

Canada is very pleased to have been recently elected as chair of the Inter-American Defense Board, and we look forward to working with member states to further strengthen this important body.

Turning to prosperity, the context of the global economic downturn from which we are now emerging demonstrates the importance of reviving our economies by strengthening our partnership with a region of dynamic economic potential.

Canada has worked hard to encourage free trade throughout the crisis and continues to do so through the recovery.

We did this by encouraging open markets at a time when many others considered isolationist policies. We believe that choosing to cooperate with neighbours and partners is the best way to create jobs, prosperity and hope for all our citizens.

This is why, for Canada, trade liberalization is a key component of our engagement.

Over the past few years in this region, we have signed free trade agreements with Peru, Colombia and Panama.

We are also negotiating trade agreements with the Caribbean Community, the Dominican Republic and the Central America countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

At the same time, we have placed a particular focus on education, which we all know is the cornerstone of greater prosperity. 

Canada, for instance, has launched a major scholarship program developed specifically for the Americas.

Unveiled by Prime Minister Harper in April of last year, the Emerging Leaders in the Americas Program offers more than 400 scholarships annually to students in Latin America and the Caribbean.

While the program is only in its second year of operation, it has already strengthened institutional links in a number of fields and promoted a host of fruitful research collaborations. 

Before closing, I must mention Haiti, as there is no more appropriate example of Canada’s leadership in the region than our involvement in the immediate response to the devastating earthquake last January and in plans for the reconstruction of Haiti.

Following swiftly on the heels of the earthquake, Canada hosted a ministerial preparatory conference on Haiti, where the immediate humanitarian situation and recovery efforts were discussed. 

Canada provided $150 million in humanitarian assistance through the Canadian International Development Agency for emergency medical services, emergency supplies, water and sanitation, and shelters.

At the International Donors’ Conference on Haiti in New York in March, the Government of Canada committed $400 million over two years for recovery and reconstruction in Haiti.

This government commitment is in addition to Canada’s longer-term development assistance in Haiti of $555 million from 2006 to 2011.

We will also work to support the important role that the OAS continues to play in Haiti, particularly on issues of capacity building, institutional strengthening and governance.

The Organization of American States is the region’s premier forum for discussion and action on the hemisphere’s most pressing issues. 

It is vital, therefore, that we continue to work together to reform the way that the OAS does business and put in place measures to bring about long-term financial sustainability, as well as increase transparency and accountability.

At a time of budgetary constraints, a streamlined, focused and results-oriented organization will be capable of attracting more funding in the competitive world of multilateral organizations.

Canada applauds Secretary General [José Miguel] Insulza for the strong leadership he has shown in the current priority-setting exercise.  

Together, we can further increase the relevance and influence of the OAS, as we work to achieve tangible results and benefits for the people of the Americas.

As I mentioned at the start, 20 years ago, Prime Minister Mulroney committed Canada to playing a leadership role in the OAS and the Americas.

Over the course of those 20 years, the OAS has played a significant role in charting a positive course for our hemisphere.

We often see the OAS through the lens of major milestones, such as the adoption of the Inter-American Democratic Charter or the resolution of political crises in member states.

However, the real impact of the Organization is less visible, marked by steady advances on a number of fronts.

Examples include the continued excellence of OAS electoral observation missions, which have strengthened democracy throughout the hemisphere, and the consistent, exceptional work of both the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which have steadfastly safeguarded the human rights of our citizens.

A more specific example is provided by the Organization’s important work in demining, which has recently resulted in Central America being declared a landmine-free zone.

I could go on and on, and with your permission, I will for just a moment more on an issue of immediate concern to the [OAS Permanent] Council.

I would like to reiterate the words of Ambassador [Allan] Culham [Canada’s Permanent Representative to the OAS] yesterday when he said that Canada welcomes the report of the Secretary General and thanks him for his diligent efforts to foster a rapid resolution to the situation on the Costa Rican-Nicaraguan border.

We commend all parties involved for their willingness to engage in dialogue in order to bring about a peaceful resolution to the situation, in the tradition of the Americas and the OAS.

However, Canada remains concerned by the presence of armed security forces in the region, which could make it more difficult to move forward constructively.

Canada believes that the presence of security forces is not a constructive way of resolving the current border dispute, and that the presence of security forces is not in the spirit of the OAS Charter.

Therefore, Canada calls for the mutual withdrawal of security forces from the region as a gesture of goodwill and a confidence-building measure to lead to dialogue between the two parties.

Furthermore, Canada considers the use of bilateral and multilateral channels in seeking a peaceful resolution to be complementary, rather than mutually exclusive.

Thus, Canada encourages the OAS to continue its active involvement and supports a continued role for the Secretary General in seeking a rapid resolution to the situation.

We believe the four elements set out in the Secretary General’s report to the Permanent Council offer a positive and constructive way forward.

Finally, my point is simply this: the OAS matters.

As a reminder of our country’s commitment to this organization and to mark the 20th anniversary of our membership, I’m pleased today to offer a uniquely Canadian symbol of friendship and cooperation, an inukshuk sculpted by Nunavut artist Peter Irniq.

Canada looks forward to continuing to work with our partners in the OAS to build a safer, more democratic and more prosperous hemisphere in which all our countries can flourish.

Thank you.