Canadian Speeches on International Affairs and Peacekeeping
(Selected Speeches & Excerpts)


Emphasis added, unless otherwise stated. Some abbreviations added in square brackets. 


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

"Canada's Role on the Global Stage" (CORIM, Montreal, 24 August 2019)


... So today, I want to offer a positive vision of Canada’s unique and multi-faceted role in an increasingly unpredictable era. ...  Canadians directly benefit from global cooperation, multilateral institutions, and international relations governed by rules and principles. We’ve always understood that global issues affect Canadian interests, which is why having a voice in shaping the world is important. ... It’s become easy to take the G7, the G20, the UN, NATO, the WTO, and other institutions for granted. But let’s not forget how revolutionary the idea of global cooperation was in the wake of two world wars. The vision was of a connected world forged on the basis of respect for international law and human rights. One in which might is constrained by common principles and standards. One where economic growth provides a better present for many, and a brighter future for all. Thankfully, this vision caught on.

... We understand that a more stable, peaceful, and prosperous world is only possible if we offer a brighter future for all, including the most vulnerable. That’s why we created a ground-breaking Feminist International Assistance Policy. Now, the majority of Canada’s aid dollars support the social, political, and economic empowerment of women. Because when women and girls succeed, economies grow and communities thrive.


Our Minister of National Defence, Harjit Sajjan, understands this better than most. We’ve made an historic investment in Canada’s hard power, increasing our defence budget by 70% so that our women and men in uniform have the equipment and training they need to operate at their very best. This includes capabilities to better defend Canada and contribute to continental security. Recognizing the impact of both a changing climate and growing maritime traffic in the Arctic, we’re renewing our Coast Guard fleet, building Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships, and expanding satellite surveillance and remotely piloted systems. We’re also rebuilding and upgrading facilities, as well as better supplying the Canadian Rangers.

We understand that protecting Canada doesn’t stop at our border. We make the greatest contribution to global stability when we match what Canada does best to what the world needs most. Our approach has been to focus on working in partnership, putting our unique Canadian expertise and capabilities on offer to build sustainable peace wherever we’re engaged. And contrary to the Harper government’s indifference – and even hostility – toward multilateral cooperation, we’ve chosen to not only re-engage in important bodies like NATO and the UN, but also take on a leadership role in their efforts.

[battlegroup in Latvia, contributing to the defeat of Daesh, helping Iraq rebuild and find sustainable peace, Canada-Ukraine new free trade agreement, and Canadian election observers...]

When Ukraine reached out for help in 2015, asking Canada to help train their troops, we stepped up. And we just recently expanded and extended the mission until 2022, because Canada will always defend Ukraine’s sovereignty. Russia’s aggression and illegal annexation of Crimea is completely unacceptable, and we will oppose it at every turn.

At the UN, we’ve chosen to re-engage in deliberate ways that will strengthen its ability to promote peace and security in the years ahead.

Over the past year, Canadian peacekeepers have been supporting a UN mission in Mali. Thanks to Canada, our partners have been able to access remote and vulnerable areas of the region, with the goal of delivering long-term peace and prosperity.

And we’ve also led the charge on advancing the UN’s Women, Peace, and Security [WPS] agenda, and building support for the Vancouver Principles on child soldiers.


In the years ahead, Canada should place democracy, human rights, international law, and environmental protection at the very heart of foreign policy. We have long believed in these principles, but are now called upon to do more to defend them, both because it is right and because it is in our national interest.

A world with more authoritarian states, less respect for human rights, and weaker international rules is a world where Canada is worse off, has fewer friends, and faces greater threats.

Still, over this past four years, we’ve accomplished a lot in this uncertain world. But there’s more we need do to advance Canadian interests, and Canada’s place on the international stage.

Here’s some of what I’d like to see happen next.

We need find ways to make the full breadth of Canadian expertise available to countries seeking to democratize, advance justice, and build stronger, better, and more transparent governments.

We should stand side by side with those who put themselves at risk in the defence of democracy and pursuit of peace, and be prepared to offer refuge when they face persecution abroad.

... We need to invest in an economic future that benefits everyone, and focus on helping the middle class. We need to work to ensure that international relations and international trade is governed by predictable rules and principles. And we must never forget that peace and prosperity comes when governments listen to and serve their citizens.


Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland

House of Commons, Ottawa, 6 June 2017

Mr. Speaker, here is a question. Is Canada an essential country at this time in the life of our planet? ... International relationships that had seemed immutable for 70 years are being called into question. From Europe to Asia, to our own North American home, long-standing pacts that have formed the bedrock of our security and prosperity for generations are being tested. New shared human imperatives, the fight against climate change first among them, call for renewed, uncommon resolve.
Turning aside from our responsibilities is not an option. Instead, we must think carefully and deeply about what is happening and find a way forward. By definition, the path we choose must be one that serves the interests of all Canadians and upholds our broadly held national values. ...

Since before the end of the Second World War, beginning with the international conference at Bretton Woods in 1944, Canada has been deeply engaged in, and greatly enjoyed the benefits of, a global order. These were principles and standards that were applied, perhaps not perfectly at all times by all states, but certainly by the vast majority of democratic states, most of the time.
The system had at its heart the core notions of territorial integrity, human rights, democracy, respect for the rule of law, and an aspiration to free and friendly trade. The common volition toward this order arose from a fervent determination not to repeat the mistakes of the immediate past. Humankind had learned through the direct experience of horror and hardship that the narrow pursuit of national self-interest, the law of the jungle, led to nothing but carnage and poverty.

Two global conflicts and the Great Depression, all in the span of less than half a century, taught our parents and grandparents that national borders must be inviolate; that international trading relationships created not only prosperity but also peace; and that a true world community, one based on shared aspirations and standards, was not only desirable but essential to our very survival.
That deep yearning toward lasting peace led to the creation of international institutions that endure to this day with the nations of western Europe, together with their transatlantic allies, the United States and Canada, at their foundation.

In each of these evolutions in how we humans organize ourselves, Canadians played pivotal roles. There was Bretton Woods itself, where the Canadian delegation was instrumental in drafting provisions of the fledgling International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. A few years later, in 1947, a Canadian, Dana Wilgress, played a leading role at the meetings in Geneva that led to the development of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade [GATT], the precursor to the WTO.

It is a Canadian, John Humphrey, who is generally credited as the principal author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR], which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948. That was the first of what became a series of declarations to set international standards in this vital area.

Let us not neglect the great Canadian, perhaps best known for advancing the cause of humanitarian intervention, Lester B. Pearson. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for his leadership during the Suez crisis in 1956, for the creation of modern peacekeeping.

These institutions may seem commonplace today. We may take them for granted. We should not. Seventy years ago, they were revolutionary, and they set the stage for the longest period of peace and prosperity in our history. It was the same appreciation of the common interests of the human family in caring for our common home that led us to the acid rain treaty of the Mulroney era. It was what led us to the Montreal protocol of 1987 to phase out CFCs and preserve the ozone layer. It is what led us, ultimately, to Paris with 194 signatories at our side. That is global co-operation.

It is important to note that when sacrifice was required to support and strengthen the global order, military power in defence of our principles and alliances, Canada was there. In Suez, in Korea, in the Congo, in Cypress, in the first Gulf War, in the Balkans, in Afghanistan, up to and including today in Iraq, among many other places, Canada has been there. As the Prime Minister has often said, that is what Canadians do. We step up.

Today, it is worth reminding ourselves why we step up, why we devote time and resources to foreign policy, defence, and development, and why we have sent Canadian soldiers, sailors, aviators, diplomats, aid workers, intelligence officers, doctors, nurses, medics, and engineers into situations of danger, disaster, and chaos overseas, even at times when Canadian territory was not directly at risk.

Why do we spend billions on defence, if we are not immediately threatened? For some countries, Israel and Latvia come to mind, the answer is self-evident. Countries that face a clear and immediate existential challenge know they need to spend on military and foreign policy, and they know why.

For a few lucky countries, like Canada and the United States, that feel protected by geography and good neighbours, the answer is less obvious. Indeed, we could easily imagine a Canadian few who say that we are safe on our continent and we have things to do at home, so let us turn inward, let us say, “Canada first”.
Here is why that would be wrong.

First, though no foreign adversary is poised to invade us, we do face clear challenges. Climate change is a shared menace, affecting every single person on this planet. Civil war, poverty, drought, and natural disasters anywhere in the world threaten us as well, not least because these catastrophes spawn globally destabilizing mass migrations.

The dictatorship in North Korea, crimes against humanity in Syria, the monstrous extremists of Daesh, and Russian military adventurism and expansionism also all pose clear strategic threats to the liberal democratic world, including Canada. Our ability to act against such threats alone is limited. It requires co-operation with like-minded countries.

On the military front, Canada's geography has meant that we have always been able to count on American self-interest to provide a protective umbrella beneath which we have found indirect shelter. Some think, some even say, we should therefore free-ride on U.S. military power. Why invest billions to maintain a capable, professional, well-funded, and well-equipped Canadian military?

The answer is obvious.

To rely solely on the U.S. security umbrella would make us a client state. Although we have an incredibly good relationship with our American friends and neighbours, such dependence would not be in Canada's interest. That is why doing our fair share is clearly necessary. It is why our commitment to NORAD and our strategic relationship with the United States is so critical. It is by pulling our weight in this partnership, and in all our international partnerships, that we, in fact, have weight.

To put it plainly, Canadian diplomacy and development sometimes require the backing of hard power. Force is, of course, always a last resort, but the principled use of force, together with our allies and governed by international law, is part of our history, and it must be a part of our future. To have that capacity requires substantial investment, which this government is committed to making. The Minister of National Defence will elaborate fully on that tomorrow. I know he will make Canadians justly proud.

Whatever their politics, Canadians understand that as a middle power living next to the world's only superpower, Canada has a huge interest in an international order based on rules, one in which might is not always right, one in which more powerful countries are constrained in their treatment of smaller ones by standards that are internationally respected, enforced, and upheld. The single most important pillar of this, which emerged following the carnage of the First and Second World Wars is the sanctity of borders, and that principle today is under siege. That is why the democratic world has united behind Ukraine.

The illegal seizure of Ukrainian territory by Russia is the first time since the end of the Second World War that a European power has annexed, by force, the territory of another European country. This is not something we can accept or ignore.

The atrocities of Daesh directly challenge both the sanctity of borders and the liberal international order itself. They create chaos, not only because of the carnage they perpetrate on their innocent victims but because of the humanitarian crises and migratory explosions that follow. This is why the world has united against this scourge. Violent extremism challenges our very way of life. We will always oppose it.
Another key benefit for Canada from an international system based on rules is, of course, free trade. In this sphere as well, beggar-thy-neighbour policies hit middle powers soonest and hardest. That is the implacable lesson of the 1930s and the Great Depression. Rising trade barriers hurt the people they are intended to help. They curb growth, stifle innovation, and kill employment. This is a lesson we should learn from history. We should not need to teach it to ourselves again through painful experience.

The international order an earlier generation built faces two big challenges, both unprecedented. The first is the rapid emergence of the global south and Asia, most prominently China, and the need to integrate these countries into the world’s economic and political system in a way that is additive, that preserves the best of the old order that preceded their rise, and that addresses the existential threat of climate change.

This is a problem that simply cannot be solved by nations working alone. We must work together.

I have focused these remarks on the development of the postwar international order, a process that was led primarily by the Atlantic powers of North America and western Europe, but we recognize that the global balance of power has changed greatly since then and will continue to evolve as more nations prosper.

The G20, in whose creation Canada was instrumental, was an early acknowledgement of this emerging reality. The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia are ascendent, delivering ever-increasing living standards to fast-growing populations bursting with innovation, creativity, and enterprise.

... Peace and prosperity are every person's birthright.

... It is clearly not our role to impose our values around the world. No one appointed us the world's policemen. However, it is our role to stand firmly for these rights, both in Canada and abroad. It is our role to provide refuge to the persecuted and downtrodden to the extent we are able, as we are so proud to have done for more than 40,000 Syrian refugees.

It is our role to set a standard for how states should treat women, gays and lesbians, transgendered people, racial, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and religious minorities, and of course, indigenous people.

We can and must play an active role in the preservation and strengthening of the global order from which we have benefited so greatly. Doing so is in our interest, because our own open society is most secure in a world of open societies, and it is under threat in a world where open societies are under threat.

In short, Canadian liberalism is a precious idea. It would not survive long in a world dominated by the clash of great powers and their vassals struggling for supremacy, or at best, an uneasy détente. Canada can work for better. We must work for better.

... The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course. For Canada, that course must be the renewal, indeed the strengthening, of the post-war multilateral order.

... To put this in sharper focus, those aims are as follows. 

First, we will robustly support the rules-based international order and all its institutions, and seek ways to strengthen and improve them. We will strongly support the multilateral forums where such discussions are held, including the G7, the G20, the OAS, APEC, the WTO, the Commonwealth, La Francophonie, the Arctic Council, and of course NATO and the UN.

A cornerstone of our multilateral agenda is our steadfast commitment to the transatlantic alliance. Our bond is manifest in CETA, our historic trade agreement with the European Union, which we believe in and warmly support, and in our military deployment this summer to Latvia.

There can be no clearer sign that NATO and article 5 are at the heart of Canada’s national security policy.

We will strive for leadership in all these multilateral forums. We are honoured to be hosting the G7 next year, and we are energetically pursuing a two-year term on the UN Security Council. We seek this UN seat because we wish to be heard, and we are safer and more prosperous when more of the world shares Canadian values.

Those values include feminism and the promotion of the rights of women and girls. It is important, and historic, that we have a Prime Minister and a government who are proud to proclaim themselves feminists. Women’s rights are human rights. That includes sexual reproductive rights.

That includes the right to safe and accessible abortions.

These rights are at the core of our foreign policy. To that end, in the coming days, my colleague the Minister of International Development and La Francophonie will unveil Canada’s first feminist international assistance policy, which will target the rights of women and girls as well as gender equality.

We will put Canada at the forefront of this global effort. This is a matter of basic justice and also basic economics. We know that empowering women overseas and here at home makes families and countries more prosperous. Canada’s values are informed by our historical duality of French and English; by our co-operative brand of federalism; by our multicultural, multi-ethnic, and multilingual citizenry; and by our geography, since our country bridges the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic.

Our values are informed by the traditions and aspirations of the indigenous people in Canada, and our values include an unshakeable commitment to pluralism, human rights, and the rule of law.

Second, we will make the necessary investments in our military, not only redress years of neglect and underfunding but also to place the Canadian Armed Forces on a new footing with the equipment, training, resources, and consistent, predictable financing they need to do their difficult, dangerous, and important work. We owe this to our women and men in uniform. We will not let them down.
Canada’s broader interest in investing in a capable, professional, and robust military is very clear. If middle powers do not implicate themselves in the furtherance of peace and stability around the world, that will be left to the great powers to settle among themselves. This would not be in Canada’s interest.

[trade] ...

As I said, we are proud of the role Canada has played in creating a rules-based international trading order. We believe in the WTO and will continue our work to make it stronger and more responsive to the needs of ordinary people in Canada and around the world. We believe in progressive trade that works for working people. That is why we are very proud that this month, Canada will ratify the last of the fundamental conventions of the International Labour Organization [ILO].

... That generation of Canadians, the greatest generation we call them with good reason, had survived the Great Depression. They were born in the aftermath of the First World War. They appreciated viscerally that a world without fixed borders or rules for the global economy was a world of strife and poverty. They sought to prevent that from ever happening again.

That is why they risked and gave their lives to fight in a European war. That is why, when they came home, they cheerfully contributed to the great project of rebuilding Europe and creating a postwar world order. That is why they counted themselves lucky to be able to do so.

They were our parents, our grandparents, and our great grandparents. The challenge we face today is significant, to be sure, but it pales next to the task they faced and met. Our job today is to preserve their achievement and to build on it, to use the multilateral structures they created as the foundation for global accords and institutions fit for the new realities of our century. They rose to their generation's great challenge, so can we.