The Ottawa Treaty, 20 Years On: Canada is Missing in Action
December 4th, 2017 - 5:08pm
NDP Foreign Affairs Critic, Hélène Laverdière, wrote the following op-ed:
This December, an important international agreement will celebrate its 20th birthday. The Ottawa Treaty, also known as the Mine Ban Treaty, was the culmination of years of struggle to ban anti-personnel mines. But if you only read today’s headlines, you might never know it existed. Even though the Liberal government has every reason to celebrate the treaty, it has been conspicuously silent.
Twenty years ago, Canada wasn’t quiet. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines had worked for years to build momentum to ban anti-personnel mines, and needed a government to champion a treaty. In October 1996, then-foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy brought governments and civil society together in Ottawa to develop a strategy that would have a treaty drafted and signed within one year. This was bold and unexpected foreign policy—and it worked. The Ottawa Treaty remains a remarkable example of multilateralism and proof of what governments can achieve when they work with civil society and one another.
Multilateralism may just sound like consensus, but it is not: it demands risk-taking, political courage, and the will to go first. The Nobel Prize-winning activist at the head of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Jody Williams, said it was “precisely Canada’s willingness to step outside of ‘normal’ diplomatic process which was another key element in the success of the ban movement.” Ms Williams is right. Before I was elected in 2011, I was a diplomat for fifteen years, and I saw how Canada made a difference by lending its political capital and its good name to causes that struggled to get a hearing.
There were fifty governments in Ottawa that October in 1996. By December 1997, 122 signed the Treaty. Today there are 162 state parties, and non-signatories are changing their behaviour. The United States, whose non-participation was once called the death knell for the ban campaign, is now the largest donor to de-mining and has vowed not to use landmines anywhere except the Korean peninsula.
Yet, as the 20th anniversary of the Ottawa Treaty approaches, Canada’s Liberals are nowhere to be found. When Chrystia Freeland delivered a lengthy speech on foreign policy in the House of Commons in June, she listed Canada’s contributions to global peace and security—and left out the Ottawa Treaty.
It was a telling omission. At a time when the world is making historic progress on multilateral initiatives, Canada is not “back”—it is hardly there at all. In 2017, 122 states signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the same number that signed the Ottawa Treaty in 1997. But this time, Canada was absent. Instead, Justin Trudeau ceded the ground to the likes of Donald Trump, calling the negotiations “useless.” That is not the ‘real change’ we were promised.
This government cannot to continue to claim its global citizenship without working for it. Active multilateralism means putting our weight, our resources, and our reputation behind change, not against it. It means that Canada should be in the room even when the big players are not. And it means listening to civil society and acting on their recommendations. The government could start by following the advice of Mines Action Canada, which has called for funding of $1 per Canadian per year so that the world can be free of land mines by 2025.
On December 4th, I will co-sponsor a commemoration of the Ottawa Treaty’s 20th anniversary on Parliament Hill. This will be an evening to celebrate the progress the global community has made together, and what Canada can achieve when it works as a true multilateral partner. It seems our government could use the reminder.