Council of Europe
May 09, 2021

Last month, I had the privilege of once again, participating in a Canadian, all-party, parliamentary delegation to the Council of Europe. Prior to attending the Council of Europe, the delegation visited Lisbon, Portugal, which will hold the next European Union Presidency. Our Canadian delegation saw this as an excellent opportunity to renew and extend Canada’s connections with Portugal on issues of importance to both countries. One issue in particular, democracy throughout Europe, dominated the agenda of the Council and presented the Canadian delegation an opportunity to share its thoughts on the progress made in this area.

On Wednesday, April 18, special guests, who included Canadian Louise Arbour, were invited to speak on the issue of global human rights. Ms. Arbour is currently the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and previously served as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda (she was also a former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada). In her speech, Ms. Arbour outlined the key human rights challenges confronting Europe and the institutions that have the mission to protect these rights. The key challenges relate to the fight against terrorism and expanding migration flows, as well as persistent discriminatory attitudes and practices.

I too, had an opportunity to address the Assembly on behalf of our Government on the state of democracy in Europe. During my address, I reaffirmed our Government’s deep commitment (along with the Assembly’s) to implementing democratic principles and to finding solutions to the key challenges confronting democratic governance today. Moreover, our Government has identified democracy as one of the four core values that guide Canadian foreign policy, along with freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. Canada has already begun to intensify our diplomatic and development efforts in support of new and fragile democracies and to oppose serious violations of democratic rights in other contexts. One such example of this action is our Government’s strong stance in response to violations of democratic principles in countries such as Burma and Belarus.

Many other issues were discussed during my time at the Council of Europe, including: the quality of medicines in Europe, nuclear energy and development, the situation of longstanding refugees and displaced persons in South East Europe, migration and mobility in the Eurasian Region, Iran’s nuclear programme, combating anti-Semitism, the suppression of counterfeiting and trafficking of counterfeit goods, to name only a few.

All of these issues are extremely important to both Canada and the international community. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is an ideal forum to objectively confront and discuss all of these issues and to act decisively in response to them. Our country’s participation in the Assembly provides Canada with an appreciation of the importance of its work in defending and strengthening democratic governance in the continent. Furthermore, Canada’s participation provides us with a unique opportunity to share a Canadian perspective on these issues and to present solutions to overcome them.