Category Archives: canadian foreign policy

Foreign Policy Camp – Vancouver Nov 30th

Our friends over at Canada’s World are starting to organize a Foreign Policy Camp for November 30th, 2009 at SFU’s downtown campus in Vancouver. Those who are interested can register here and there is a wiki here for proposing sessions.

Some excerpts from the mail out:

We’ve assembled an amazing team of experienced collaborators including Daniel Savas at IPSOS Reid, Mark Leahy with Mergenta Consulting, the Canadian International Council, Liam O’Doherty with TakingITGlobal, the SFU School for International Relations, artist Vanessa Richards, and Hannah Cho with the Asia Pacific Foundation. From satellite camps in Quebec to flash mobs in cities across the country, and from foreign policy discussions on Twitter to tutorials on new interactive technologies, ForeignPolicyCamp is already connecting us as a nation.

ForeignPolicyCamp will shine a spotlight on new thinkers and doers in the Canadian foreign policy scene while creating a space for students, artists, techies and diplomats young and old to come together and share ideas as equals. We are confident that ForeignPolicyCamp’s innovative hybrid format will provide something for everyone.

Some of this camp’s interactive sessions include a forum on climate change, a session on the role of Canadian artists overseas, case studies on Afghanistan, Africa, the Arctic, Asia and US-Canada relations, a workshop on how to rethink foreign aid, a talk on the role of Canadian artists abroad, a session about how to engage Diaspora communities in foreign policy, and open sessions on international urban issues and Net-based interactions. A key component of ForeignPolicyCamp is its open-space section, so if you are interested in presenting a contemporary topic to a receptive audience, please share your ideas on our site’s session-planning Wiki.

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Two More Examples of Why Your Canadian Citizenship Means Nothing

A reader from the other week’s post on Why Your Canadian Citizenship Means Nothing linked to this story in the Toronto Star.

Apparently another Canadian, Suaad Mohamud Haj, who is of Somali descent has been trapped in a foreign land. However, this time around it was Canadian officials who stripped her of her passport effectively stranding her in Kenya and leaving her at risk of being deported to Somalia (not, as you can imagine, the safest country in the world).

Is she a Canadian citizen? I don’t know. However, she does have numerous other documents attesting to her citizenship as well as an ex-husband, a 12-year old son in Toronto, and former Federal Minister willing to state that she is indeed Canadian.  Still more striking, she has offered to be fingerprinted so that her prints can be matched against those she provided to the government back in 1999 when she first immigrated to Canada.

None of these facts however have prompted the Canadian government to act either swiftly or compassionately. After preventing Suaad from retuning home on May 17th, Ottawa released a statement in the last week of June stating: “Following an extensive investigation, officials at the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi have determined that the individual arrested by Kenyan authorities is not Ms. Suaad Mohamud Hagi.”

No evidence is cited, no reason is given. Apparently, if you end up in front of a Canadian official abroad and they don’t believe you are Canadian, not only should you expect to wait months before hearing why your passport was stripped from you but when you finally do get an explanation, don’t expect to hear any reasoning. To be fair, why should they have to explain themselves to you… you aren’t Canadian.

So in summary, after marooning someone who very much appears to be Canadian in a foreign country (on May 17th) our government took weeks to find confirm they hadn’t made a mistake (last week of June), then took another two weeks to accept a two month old offer the accused themselves made to submit their fingerprints to prove their identity. This is the treatment Canadians can expect from their own government. Again, if this is how our government will treat some citizens, this is how they could treat any citizen. That includes you.

Sadly, this is treatment you can expect if you are still alive. I don’t even want to begin to talk about what happens if you happen to be tortured and killed for political reasons in a foreign jail. Even if our government says it wants those responsible actively brought to justice it will do pretty much everything it can to ignore the issue, even when it has access to witnesses. Indeed, it will become more concerned about the negative press its inaction might generate then about ensuring justice and safety for Canadians abroad.

The more I read about these cases the angrier I become. One of the most basic roles of government is to protect its citizens and here we have two recent cases (I’m not even counting Arar) where our government has actually put its own citizens in grave danger, in one case tacitly encouraging their torture. And what message does this send? Why should other governments care about how they treat Canadians when our own government doesn’t seem to care. These are dark times.

It isn’t easy to say and I despise typing the words, but it is hard to draw any other conclusion: if you travel abroad your Canadian Citizenship means nothing.

If you are 25 and under Edmonton is the place to be this weekend

As a kid (and my whole life really), I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel. Initially, my parents work took them, and thus me, abroad so that, at a young age, I spent time in Europe (including a week behind the Iron Curtain before it fell) and America.

This international exposure at a young age was critical in my development. It got me interested in the world and there is no doubt that it prompted me to head to Queen’s (where I was told Foreign Service officers “went to school”) and it propelled me to pursue a Master’s in International Relations.

All this to say that bringing the world to Canada and to young Canadians in particular is a gift that cannot be undervalued. So I’m excited to note that the Global Youth Assembly is taking place in Edmonton this weekend. Young people from around the world (and many from Canada) will be getting together to talk about what matters to them.

For me, the opportunity for young Canadians to have the chance to meet people like Acii Ojok and Martiatu Kamara is invaluable. Acii, a human rights lawyer, fought as a soldier in Uganda.  Mariatu in contrast was captured and her hands cut off in Sierra Leone at the age of 12. To be exposed to stories such as theirs is way to kindle an interest an care in the world, and to stir a sense of global citizenship that I think is found in many Canadians I admire the most.

Congrats to the Global Youth Assembly team. I hope you radicalize some young Canadians. In a world of myforeignpolicy.ca where individuals have a bigger and bigger impact in the international sphere, don’t underestimate what seeds may be planted.

Your Canadian citizenship means nothing

There have, in the past few years, been some very disturbing trends around the state of Canadians rights.

The first assault was very direct. The current conservative government has made it law that children to Canadians who were themselves were born outside the country will not be Canadian. So, if you happen to be on vacation, or visiting family, studying or working abroad when you (or your partner) give birth to a child, you’d better hope they are not also caught in the same situation when that happy moment arrives. If so, your grandchild will not be Canadian. Canadians, being an international lot due to immigration and our propensity to travel, study and work abroad, are apparently only really considered Canadians if they are born in the right place.

This assault of the notion of Canadian citizenship – that you may not be able to pass it on to your children if you happen to be out of the country – is however, relatively minor. If you happen to be a Canadian that the government of the day does not like – don’t expect to be rescued from torture and false imprisonment. Indeed, don’t even expect to be allowed to return home.

The treatment of Abousfian Abdelrazik is a national scandal. In short a Canadian citizen was abandoned by his own government – the institution that is supposed to protect his rights and ensure that he receive due process if accused of a crime. It is appalling that a Federal judge had to order the Canadian government to repatriate a Canadian citizen. All this tells me is that if I do something Foreign Minister Cannon does not like and my passport is removed from my person, he can essentially prevent me from returning home. Even if the RCMP and CSIS clears me of any charges.

And the complicity of the Canadian government in ensuring that Abderlrazik remained imprisoned is still more shocking:

In a wide-ranging and sometimes chilling account of six years of imprisonment and forced exile abroad, Mr. Abdelrazik recounted stories of interrogation and alleged torture. He told of Canadian Security and Intelligence Service agents laughingly saying “Sudan will be your Guantanamo” when he begged to be allowed to return home.

Apparently, being a Canadian citizen abroad means that you are on your own. If you have the wrong colour skin, the wrong beliefs, if you do something that the Canadian government decides it doesn’t approve of, or if you are simply caught in the wrong place at the wrong time… you are on your own. Again, this is a shocking state of affairs. Citizenship is supposed to come with certain rights. Our physical security and right to due process are core among them. When these disappear for some citizens they disappear for ALL citizens. Every Canadian is vulnerable.

If you are not outraged, you should be. Your government has decided that certain Canadian citizens are expendable. They can be forgotten, ignored and even tortured by a foreign government with our explicit knowledge. Maybe you think it will never happen to you – maybe it won’t. But if we are willing to treat some Canadians this way, what does it say about our definition of Canadian citizenship and, more importantly, what it means to be a citizen of this country?

As I said once before, never before have Canadians cared so little about foreign policy, but perhaps it is because foreign policy has never cared so little for them. To be a Canadian abroad is to be without support, without rights, and, in some cases, without even the acknowledgement that you are Canadian.

The Rat Pack of Public Service Sector Renewal

As many of you know I spend a lot of time thinking about public service sector renewal – that’s a wonkish term for renewing the public service. I do it because I think the public service is one of the most important institutions in the country since it affects everything we do, pretty much every day.

Over the past few years I’ve met more and more people who are equally passionate about this issue. Some I’ve met in person, others I’ve just chatted with by email. But, over the last 4 years I’ve watched a small group of bloggers – a rat pack of public service sector renewal – emerge. We’re scattered across the country and have come to from different angles but we all care about how our government is, how it should be, and how we can get to from the first place to the latter.

This is no easy task. I’m outside of government so it’s easier for me to speak truth to power. That’s why I’m so impressed with the other rat packers, in pursuit of making government better some have put their jobs on the line from time to time. I’d encourage you to go check our their blogs and give them a read.

The CPSR rat pack:

Me: as my readers know, my own thinking on public service sector renewal tends to focus on public policy development, and how it is going to be impacted by demographic change, technology, social media, networks and emergent systems.

Nick Charney’s blog CPSRenewal is one of the best blogs on public service sector renewal out there. Nick often does a weekly roundup of CPSR articles and blog posts, interviews with public servants and generally shares his thoughts.

Etienne Laliberte is one of the bravest public servants I know. A couple of years ago he wrote “An Inconvenient Renewal” in which shared his thoughts on renewal. Most important, his is probably the only document I’ve seen that treats renewal as a management problem, not a policy problem (something I’ve discussed in the past and intend to talk about again shortly). You can catch him at his blog as well.

A couple of other people I think of as being part of the Rat Pack include Peter Cowan – an OpenEverything alumnus – whose part of a team doing very interesting work with social media tools at Natural Resources Canada.

Thomas Kearney, who doesn’t blog, but is amazing nonetheless, has been a big part of the work behind GCPEDIA.

There’s Laura Wesley’s who’s got a great blog over at Results for Canadians: Measuring Success in Government. Nice to have someone concerned with how we measure success!

And finally there is the outspoken Douglas Bastien at Government of Canada 2.0, ready to tell it as it is and take no prisoners.

I know there are more people than just those I’ve mentioned, but these are the group I know and who’ve always been kind about letting an semi-outsider like me in. If you care about Canadian public service sector renewal (twitter hashtag #cpsr) then I hop you’ll add their RSS feeds to your reader.

Is it time to get rid of the Foreign Service designation?

dfait_logoA Foreign Service officer (FS) is an employees of the Government of Canada who pass the foreign service exam and are hired by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT)and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

This is important because becoming an FS is no easy task. Every year hundreds of Canadians write the test and few are selected for interviews. Fewer still are hired into the department. This barrier to entry has created a sense of class around the FS designation. To be an FS meant you were the best, the brightest, the most able of public servants – not only a distinct class, but a class above.

But what if this is no longer true? Moreover, what if being a class apart is what’s killing the Foreign Service?

It is worth remembering the environment out of which the FS designation emerged (and for which it is designed for). When Canada’s nascent foreign service began to take shape in the 30’s the diplomatic world looked very different. It was dominated by Europeans and largely populated by quasi royalty – former aristocrats – who had all gone to the right schools, spoke the right languages and knew all the right protocols. Foreign policy was an elite policy area – not just because it was so important – but also because it was dominated by elites (in the class sense of the word). While the role of aristocrats in foreign policy has faded long ago, the legacy of their culture lingered. As a result, the Foreign Service had to ensure that the right people became foreign service officers, no ordinary country bumpkin would do, to have influence in the diplomatic world standards had to be kept.

The FS designation also emerged out of an early and mid 20th century era when public servants did not change ministries. In Ottawa you were a Finance Man, or a Treasury Board Man, or a Natural Resources Man (and yes, for much of that period you were probably a man) and it was uncommon to move from one department to another. In this world, a strong Foreign Service culture made sense since many of the other ministries had a strong sense of culture as well.

But today the world, Canadians and Ottawa, are different. Every ministry engages in foreign policy – be it healthcare issues, the environment, energy, transport, you name it. There is hardly an issue in Canada that does not have an important international dimension. Moreover, public servants now frequently move from ministry to ministry. Indeed, a successful career in the public service requires that you move around. A broad set of experience is deemed to be essential. Finally, the typical public servant has changed dramatically. Today, Canadians are much more internationalized. Many of us are born abroad, still more of us have family abroad, and with (relatively) cheap air travel many Canadians travel abroad. This is a far cry from even 30 years ago. But not only do Canadians travel more, they are better educated. There may have been a time when the average foreign service officer was significantly better educated than the average public servant – but this is simply no longer the case. Many public servants now have Master’s degrees. Indeed, for a while, you couldn’t get hired without one.

This is the world of the public service in the 21st century, and it presents three challenges for the foreign service.

The first, it has become less and less clear what makes a Foreign Service officer unique. An increasing number of public servants outside of DFAIT and CIDA are successfully engaging in international work: negotiating treaties, attending international conferences, and working directly with other governments. If this work can be done by non-FSs the question arises… what is the value add of the Foreign Service Officer? What unique skills and knowledge do they bring? Whenever I’m in Ottawa I hear colleagues, friends, and even strangers ask this question. This is not to say Foreign Service officers are not incredibly talented- but it is asking what, as a class or group, do they offer?

This first problem is compounded by a second that few within DFAIT and CIDA wish to talk about: elitism. FSs have always thought of themselves as not only different but also (if they are honest with themselves) better than other public servants. There was likely a time when this was true. FSs were better educated and more traveled than their peers. Today however, it is no longer the case. Many public servants are relatively well traveled and well educated. The gap simply no longer exists. The result is that, around Ottawa, FSs are perceived as elitist snobs, a perception that is crippling the department. Not only does the rest of Ottawa now question the department’s value add they also, quite understandably, despise being looked down upon. Everyday a thousand small decisions are made to seek ways to work around – rather than with – DFAIT and those decisions are adding up. Nobody wants to play with the foreign service.

Finally, FS designation itself is a direct problem because it us both keeping Ottawa out DFAIT down. Today, public servants move around Ottawa getting experience in different departments – this is how the game is now played. And yet DFAIT and CIDA sit outside the game – FSs don’t want to work in another department and they often resent non-FSs who come and work in theirs. Consequently, few good ideas developed outside the ministry find there way in. Moreover, because FSs have isolated themselves they have neither the network of interdepartmental colleagues nor the experience and knowledge of how Ottawa works that their public service colleagues possess. They are getting outplayed. Still more problematic, the answers to the highly subjective Situational Judgment component of the Foreign Service Test are determined by senior Foreign Service officers. This means that those who succeed in being hired as FSs are those who are most likely to think like the outgoing generation. This creates a conservative trend within the department that reinforces old ideas and the class like elitism.

If DFAIT wants a leading role in the development of government policy it has a number of obstacles it needs to overcome. The most challenging however is reforming the system that shapes the thinking and culture of its employees. One place to start may be acknowledging that the FS designation – while an enormous source of pride – is also a source of significant problems. Opening up the FS designation to other public servants (treating it more like that the ES designation) could be one approach. Alternatively, focusing the FS designation on crisis management in the field and making it a class for people who are going to work in embassies in hostile territory or politically compromising situations may make more sense. These are just suggestions – what is most important is that the yawning culture gap between DFAIT and the rest of Ottawa must be closed – because increasingly the rest of Ottawa is discovering it can live without DFAIT, but DFAIT cannot live without the rest of Ottawa.

It's a brave man who advocates against R2P at the U of O…

…and my friend Matteo Legrenzi – assistant professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs of the University of Ottawa – appears to be just the guy. Remember, this is the University at which Allan Rock is president.

Recently Matteo penned this critical piece on R2P in the Ottawa Citizen. In his trademark style it has some notable harsh lines including:

Occasionally calls to mobilize Canada’s diplomatic network in support of such notions reverberate through Ottawa. The current government is perceived as not incisive enough in the promotion of these “emerging” norms in international relations.

Admittedly, these calls more often than not come from retired politicians who are not in charge of Canada’s foreign policy, let alone world affairs. They are part of that wider syndrome that affects many individuals involved in policy-making after they retire: We are sorry we did not save the world while we were in charge, but let us tell you exactly how to go about it now that we are out of office.

and, because he is an expert on Middle Eastern issues, this quote:

In many Muslim-majority countries such as Egypt, opposition to R2P is the only thing that unites the government and the Islamist opposition.

Matteo and I don’t always agree but I do always enjoy his blunt assessments of Canada’s foreign policy. There is a strain of thinking in Canadian foreign policy that is more obsessed with pursuing the perfect ideal than pragmatically finding solution that works. This is something I’ve occasionally tried to write about. Matteo’s assessments is far tougher, and is the type of piece few Canadians are willing to voice and fewer still like to hear (especially in Ottawa).

What makes Matteo tough is that there is truth to his assessment. Contrary to what some politicians preach R2P is unpopular in many parts of the world and it is not established international norm. George Bush spent 8 years believing that the world could become a certain way if he simply believed and acted that it was as such… it was a dangerous strategy that had devastating results. A similar strategy, even if motivated by what we believe are more noble intentions, will also be fraught with danger.

I know not everyone will agree with Matteo’s analysis, but even those who disagree with his prescription should at least take away that one lesson: reality may bite, but we can never ignore it.

Canada's Foreign Policy: Canadians'… you are on your own

Numerous commentator have asked why Canadians don’t seem to care about Foreign Policy. Well, maybe it is because our foreign policy so rarely cares about them.

Consider the plight of Abousfian Abdelrazi, the Sudanese-born Canadian whose name is stuck on the 1267 UN no-flight list. And let’s be clear, both Canadian and Sudanese authorities have cleared Abdelrazik of any association with a terrorist organization.

So what happens when your own government determines you should be presumed innocent? Do they help you get home? Do they advocate on your behalf? Do they help in any meaningful way?

The answer is simple: no.

As Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said to the Globe and Mail.

“It’s up to him, its incumbent on him to make sure he gets off that list”

And how, exactly, is a lone citizen like Abousfian Abdelrazi supposed to lobby the UN security council to change his status? It is bad enough that he is functionally exiled with no access to appeal or any due process. What is appalling is that his own government has effectively abandoned him.

Remember this could be you, if in some Brazilesque bureaucratic hic-cup you could end up on a no-fly list.

Sadly, if you end up on a no-fly list (as Senator Ted Kennedy once famously did) the Canadian government will write a letter on your behalf (they the UN Security Council in December 2007 to ask to have Abdelrazik removed). However, what we now know is that doesn’t work out – too bad, you are on your own.

Which University will be smart enough to make Masoda Younasy an offer?

Yesterday, Michael Adams pointed me to this great story in the Globe and Mail about the Masoda Younasy – the granddaughter of Afghanistan’s former king, Mohammad Zahir Shah – who, because she created and ran her own construction business, advocated for reform and mused about entering politics has had death threats hurled against her.

In an extraordinary move, Canada has offered her a permit to live here while her life is at risk. A fantastic start.

So what does she want to do? According to the article:

…her aim is to attend a Canadian university and obtain a political-science degree she might some day put to use in her home country.

What an amazing opportunity. Not only for Ms. Younasy, but for Canadians and, more specifically, the university smart enough and agile enough to offer her a speedy enrollment. My own preference is that Queen’s, which is home to the Centre for the Study of Democracy, might make her an offer. Here is a women keen on bringing democracy and opportunity to a country that has seen little of either – her goals couldn’t be more aligned with those of the institution and her perspective and experience would greatly enrich the discussions in all her classes.

These are the types of opportunities that are easily missed, often because the long term opportunities and benefits – to the student, the university and the country – get trumped by bureaucracy and lack of vision. Well, for those who wonder if it is worthwhile, take note that unwittingly done something similar before and everyone was better off because of it.

Why Smart Power matters

America cannot solve the most pressing problems on our own, and the world cannot solve them without America. The best way to advance America’s interest in reducing global threats and seizing global opportunities is to design and implement global solutions. This isn’t a philosophical point. This is our reality.

The president-elect and I believe that foreign policy must be based on a marriage of principles and pragmatism, not rigid ideology. On facts and evidence, not emotion or prejudice. Our security, our vitality, and our ability to lead in today’s world oblige us to recognize the overwhelming fact of our interdependence.

I believe that American leadership has been wanting, but is still wanted. We must use what has been called “smart power,” the full range of tools at our disposal — diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal, and cultural — picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation. With smart power, diplomacy will be the vanguard of foreign policy. This is not a radical idea. The ancient Roman poet Terence, who was born a slave and rose to become one of the great voices of his time, declared that “in every endeavor, the seemly course for wise men is to try persuasion first.” The same truth binds wise women as well.

– Hillary Clinton, January 13th, 2009

During her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hillary Clinton used the term “Smart Power” no less than 12 times. It is a clever term, one that seeks to navigate between the Hard Power of military might and economic coercion, with the Soft Power of ideology, culture and agenda setting. Does the term signal something new in US foreign policy? Depends on your time frame. Without a doubt it marks the end of the George W. Bush foreign policy era. Clearly the blustery swagger of a shoot first, ask question later has ended. This is a United States that will be more cautious and more engaging. But rather than the start of something new, Smart Power likely signals a return to the Bill Clinton and Bush Sr. era of foreign policy. Indeed, as important as the term Smart Power was, the focus should lie not on the term, but on the revealing paragraph leading up to it:

“The president-elect and I believe that foreign policy must be based on a marriage of principles and pragmatism, not rigid ideology. On facts and evidence, not emotion or prejudice. Our security, our vitality, and our ability to lead in today’s world oblige us to recognize the overwhelming fact of our interdependence.”

Here the guiding principles behind the shift to Smart Power are revealed. Two strike me as paramount. The first reaffirms what I think will be the buzz word of the Obama administration: pragmatism. Despite his soaring speeches and inspiring words Obama is first and foremost interested in achieving the possible – stretch goals are fine – but ideological dreams are not for him. Second, in this speech, the United States’ next Secretary of State signalled to the world that it once again recognizes it cannot go it alone. The acknowledgement of interdependence is the antithesis of “you are with us or against us.” It is an recognition that allies – real allies, not the minnow states bullied into participation – are required to sustain and enhance the stability and prosperity of the international system. Bush Sr. understood this when creating his coalition for the first Gulf War, Clinton sought, insofar as possible, to build similar agreement when advancing his international agenda.

These have two dramatic impacts for Canada – and other countries. The first is that we should expect the Americans will ask us what we think – our advice or thoughts may not change their opinions, but we will likely be asked and when that happens, we’d better have something smart and meaningful to contribute. Second, the opportunity of being consulted comes with it the responsibility to contribute and support, even when the decision or strategy isn’t one that we completely agree with. When you’ve been part of the discussion you can walk away when the rubber hits the road. Third, those who have a well thought out plan for solving a problem will win out over those who have grievances to share. Demonstrate to this administration that you can solve a problem through realizable actions and I suspect they will listen and support you.

For Canadians nowhere is this change in attitude possible more important than on the management of the Canadian Border. I would have a new briefing plan of how we believe the border should be managed ready and waiting for when Clinton or Obama’s first arrives in Ottawa. If the Obama administration acts as it talks, I suspect it will reward and seek out, not those who do as it says, but those who solve the problems they care about. This is a welcome return to the diplomacy of the 1990’s which was also cautious and smart. It was also a good period for Canadian-American relations.

Canadians have spent years hoping the Americans will change. Now that they have, are we ready?