By Michael Petrou - Wednesday, May 15, 2013 - 0 Comments
The Global Dialogue on the Future of Iran, an effort by the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and the Department of Foreign Affairs to provide a platform for Iranians to discuss and debate the country’s future, mostly through Internet social media, has received more than 149,000 distinct visitors from inside Iran, according to a Foreign Affairs source.
I wrote about it in a little more detail here.
By Michael Petrou - Friday, May 10, 2013 at 9:16 PM - 0 Comments
Canada severed diplomatic relations with Iran last September, cutting off contact between the Iranian and Canadian governments. Simultaneously, however, a team at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has been working to engage directly with Iranian citizens.
It’s a difficult challenge. DFAIT is banking on the populist potential of the Internet and online social media.
To this end, DFAIT and University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs are, today and tomorrow, hosting a conference, or a “Global Dialogue” on the future of Iran. The physical conference is taking place at U of T and involves speakers from the Iranian diaspora.
The deeper goal, however, is to converse with Iranians inside Iran using a variety of social media. Iranians not at the conference can submit questions through Google Moderator and other tools. Some already have. The conference is also being live-streamed online, and has accounts on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 2:04 PM - 0 Comments
Why Canada decided to ditch Israeli trauma kits during Baird’s 2011 visit
Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) hired a commercial supplier to provide emergency medical equipment to Libyan rebels fighting dictator Moammar Gadhafi, in part over concerns that some material that the Canadian military could have provided was made in Israel or marked with crosses that DFAIT feared resembled those worn by Crusaders.
In June 2011, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird made an unexpected visit to Benghazi, then the headquarters of Libya’s National Transitional Council, which Canada had just recognized as the country’s legitimate representative. The visit coincided with the delivery of some 333 emergency trauma kits, which Baird described as “a gift from Canada to the Libyan people.” The kits were purchased through Relief Chain Solutions, a Gatineau, Que.-based supplier, at a cost of approximately $66,500. Shipping costs brought the total price for delivering the kits close to $83,000, according to DFAIT.
By Michael Petrou - Friday, March 22, 2013 at 10:41 AM - 0 Comments
This morning I sent Suzanne Legault, Canada’s information commissioner, the following letter. Updates will be posted here as warranted.
Dear Madam Legault:
I am writing to file a formal complaint about an access-to-information request I filed with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade on August 23, 2012. The file number is [...]
On September 25, 2012, DFAIT sent me a letter indicating that it would not be able to meet the statutory limit of 30 days and granted itself a 150-day extension. I was disappointed but took DFAIT at its word that his deadline would be met, which is why I didn’t file a formal complaint within sixty days of receiving the extension notice.
DFAIT, however, has not met its self-imposed deadline. [...] at DFAIT has informed me that a partial release was been mailed today. The balance of the disclosure is being held up by the Privy Council Office. Ms. [...] says she does not know when the PCO will release this material. Ms. [...] also informs me that the material the PCO is holding up consists of four pages. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 10:58 AM - 0 Comments
Canada’s Access to Information Act stipulates that a government institution should disclose information 30 days after a request is received.
It also allows government institutions to extend this time limit to a “reasonable” length of time, if searching through records would interfere with the work of the government department in question, or if “consultations” are necessary that cannot be completed within the original time limit.
The Act’s application is fairly narrowly defined. It does not apply to “confidences of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada,” and thereby shelters from scrutiny much pertaining to Cabinet and committees of Cabinet.
In practice, my experience is that requests are rarely completed within 30 days. Just what constitutes a “reasonable” extension is debatable. I’ve just received a disclosure from the Canada Border Services Agency for a request I made in 2010. I’ve similarly had to wait three years for a response from the Canadian International Development Agency. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Friday, August 17, 2012 at 6:01 AM - 0 Comments
It’s probably a good thing that Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs wasn’t in charge of covertly supporting the Afghan mujahedeen during the Cold War. Given DFAIT’s clumsy attempts to channel aid to Syria this week, I’m not even sure an underage teenager hanging around the LCBO parking lot should trust Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird to secretly buy him booze.
Last weekend, Canada announced it was providing $2 million to Canadian Relief for Syria, little-known group with no previous international aid experience and no charitable status in Canada. The original press release said the aid would “provide medical supplies for doctors and health-care providers within Syria’s borders.”
The announcement struck a non-partisan tone: “‘Canada calls on all sides of the conflict to immediately allow humanitarian access so that assistance reaches those most in need,’ said [International Cooperation Minister Julian] Fantino.”
The website of Canadian Relief for Syria also claimed neutrality: “CRS is a non-political, non-denominational, non-governmental organization, set up to co-ordinate help and support to Syrian families.” Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Monday, February 6, 2012 at 6:15 AM - 0 Comments
Last year’s revolutions of the Arab Spring were, and remain, the greatest opportunity for the global growth of democracy since the end of the Cold War and the resulting spread of freedom in Eastern Europe.
Democracy promotion is ostensibly a priority for this government. In the 2008 Throne Speech, Canada was promised: “a new, non-partisan democracy promotion agency will also be established to support the peaceful transition to democracy in repressive countries and help emerging democracies build strong institutions.”
More than three years later, that promise is unfulfilled. But Canada still has the framework to pursue democracy promotion through the Canadian International Development Agency, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
Both CIDA and DFAIT claim democracy promotion as part of their core mandates. It should follow, therefore, that the Arab Spring presented them with an unprecedented opportunity. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, November 22, 2011 at 12:07 PM - 9 Comments
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says Canada has not blocked Suncor Energy Inc.’s operations in Syria because the natural gas it extracts is used solely to generate electricity for civilian use. It would be “negative, not positive” to cut off hospitals and families, he added.
This is, at best, is a dubious claim. Suncor’s partnership in Syria is with a state-owned company. Revenues go to the regime. Some of those revenues may be used to keep the lights on in hospitals. Some may be used to massacre peaceful protesters. Canada isn’t allowing Suncor to continue working in Syria out of humanitarian concerns. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 12:57 PM - 5 Comments
When I wrote this article about the ongoing uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship in Syria, the Department of Foreign Affairs’ webpage on Canada-Syria relations noted that Canada is the third-largest direct foreign investor in Syria, mostly due to a $1.2 billion Suncor/Petro-Canada gas project. The website was then amended to remove this reference.
It’s fair to assume that the Canadian government was embarrassed by the extent of Canada’s business investment in a country whose government has already slaughtered some 2,000 people. I contacted Foreign Affairs to find out their explanation. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 1:40 PM - 13 Comments
While Richard Colvin awaits the necessary funds to pay his legal bills, the Liberals have publicly tabled some of the dozens of written questions they had put on the order paper and were awaiting government response when the second session of the 40th Parliament met its untimely demise. Included among them, several on the matter of Afghan detainees. To wit.
Who was responsible for redacting the documents and what role did the DFAIT, National Defence, the Privy Council Office or any ministry play? How many times has the government notified the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) of allegations of abuse, mistreatment, or torture of Canadian-transferred detainees? Did the government follow-up on these or any other investigation with regards to allegations or evidence of abuse, mistreatment, or torture of Canadian-transferred detainees to ensure that each of the allegations had been investigated? What were the results of these investigations? What did the government do to assure itself that the allegations had been sufficiently investigated by the AIHRC or any other entity? Were any records or files kept on these investigations? Were any of these investigations deemed to be insufficient and, if so, what was done to remedy this? Did the government ever request legal opinions regarding Canada’s domestic and international legal responsibility for detainees captured by the Canadian military or military police in Afghanistan and transferred to Afghan authorities? Did this legal advice contribute to the formulation of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada’s diplomatic contingency plan related to detainees?
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 20, 2009 at 4:33 PM - 16 Comments
Unsolicited, a three paragraph statement from Foreign Affairs arrived just now.
It is important to let the Parliamentary Committee process unfold and to consider and weigh the testimony of subsequent witnesses before drawing any conclusions about how events in Afghanistan may have unfolded in 2006 and 2007.
It is our understanding that other current and former DFAIT employees will be testifying before the Parliamentary Committee. Their testimony will provide important context and information about this issue.
Canada has a robust monitoring regime for Canadian transferred detainees in place. From the beginning of our engagement in Kandahar in 2005, Canada has taken steps with the Afghan government to ensure that Afghanistan meets its domestic and international obligations with respect to the treatment of detainees.
By Michael Petrou - Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 9:57 AM - 15 Comments
The Toronto Star’s John Goddard tells a sad and familiar tale.
By Michael Petrou - Wednesday, November 19, 2008 at 9:59 AM - 3 Comments
A New York Times photo essay about Somalia’s pirates identifies an inmate jailed in the Somali port city of Boosaaso as Canadian Gure Ahmed.
The World Desk called Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to ask if they had any information on the man. After two days of research, they replied that they have never heard of him, which, among other disturbing implications, suggests no one at DFAIT is familiar with Google.
The topic of Canadians jailed abroad is one I will be exploring in more depth in an upcoming article in the print edition of Maclean’s.