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It’s not just the drought treaty: In international law, Canada has withered
Ryan Liss and Joanna Langille
The Globe and Mail
29 March 2013
Ryan Liss is a Humphrey Fellow in International Human Rights Law and an LLM candidate at Yale Law School. Joanna Langille is a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law.
This week Canada indicated that it plans to pull out of a United Nations convention aimed at preventing drought. The 1994 Convention to Combat Desertification has been ratified by every member of the United Nations – that’s over 190 countries – and Canada will be the first and only country to reject it. Canada initially did not provide reasons for leaving the uncontroversial convention (the government did not even bother to tell the UN Secretariat that it had decided to withdraw).
This demonstrates a marked disdain for international law and multilateral co-operation on even the most basic of issues. Sadly, however, this decision is par for the course under the government of Stephen Harper and is the latest in a series of actions demonstrating the Conservative government’s isolationist agenda.
It wasn’t always this way. (…)
We were the sponsors of the commission that developed the Responsibility to Protect, an international law doctrine which seeks to emphasize the obligation of states and the international community to protect those suffering from atrocities. The Canadian delegation ensured that negotiations on the Draft UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) moved forward in the early 2000s. In 2002, Canada stood strong refusing to join the invasion of Iraq, unless it was sanctioned by the United Nations. Without UN sanction, Canada insisted, military action would be inconsistent with international law.
Canada’s role, however, has changed over the last seven years. Under the Harper government, Canada has become something of a pariah on all things international law.
For instance, shortly after the Harper government came to power, Canada’s position on the UNDRIP took an about-face. In 2008, Canada was one of only four countries to vote against the declaration at the UN General Assembly. This rejection came despite support for the declaration by a majority of the House of Commons, and by senior officials in both the Department of Foreign Affairs and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. The government eventually issued a qualified endorsement of the UNDRIP in 2010. (…)
The change in Canada’s approach to international law has not gone unnoticed by the international community. Respect for Canada in international institutions has diminished. For the first time in the history of the UN, Canada failed to secure a nomination for a position on the Security Council – a loss that many experts blamed on the change in Canada’s foreign policy and approach to international organizations.
It is time for Canada to reclaim its role as a respected member of the international community, and to reject the Harper government’s isolationist moves. Our political capital on the international front has been disappearing rapidly, and with decisions like the rejection of the Convention to prevent drought, it won’t be long before it’s all dried up.


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