Foreign relations of Canada

Foreign relations of Canada

The foreign relations of Canada are Canada's relations with other governments and peoples. Canada's most important relationship is undoubtedly with the United States but Canadian governments of both political parties have taken interest in other areas as well, mostly through multilateral organizations such as the United Nations, the Commonwealth, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Early diplomatic history

The British North American colonies which today constitute modern Canada had little control over their foreign affairs until the achievement of responsible government in the late 1840s. Up to that point wars, negotiations and treaties were carried out by the British government to settle disputes concerning the colonies over fishing and boundaries, and to promote trade. Notable examples from the colonial period include the Nootka Convention, the War of 1812, the Rush-Bagot Treaty, the Treaty of 1818, the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, and the Oregon Treaty. While before the granting of responsible government, it might be said that matters were concluded more to smooth British-American relations than to satisfy the colonists, the Canadian-American Reciprocity Treaty of 1854 signalled an important change in relations between Britain and its North American colonies. In this treaty, the Canadas were allowed to impose tariff duties more favourable to a foreign country than to Britain, a precedent that was extended by new tariffs in 1859, 1879, and 1887 in the face of angry demands on the part of British industrialists that these tariffs be disallowed by London.

Soon after Confederation, the prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald appointed Sir John Rose as his lobbyist in London. When Alexander Mackenzie became prime minister, he sent George Brown to represent Canada in Washington during British-American trade talks. After the Conservatives came back to power in 1878, the government sent Alexander Galt to London, as well as to France and Spain. Although the British government was concerned about this nascent Canadian diplomacy, it finally consented to giving Galt the formal title of High Commissioner in 1880. A trade commissioner was appointed to Australia in 1894. As high commissioner, Charles Tupper helped to negotiate an agreement with France in 1893, but it was countersigned by the British ambassador as the Queen's official representative to France. Meanwhile, in 1882 the province of Quebec made its first of many forays into the international community by sending a representative, Hector Fabre to Paris in 1882.

Canada's responses to happenings in the wider world were limited at this time. During 1878 tensions between Britain and Russia, for example, Canada constructed a few limited defences but did little else. By the time of the British capagin in Sudan of 1884-85, however, Canada was excepted to contribute troops. Since Ottawa was reluctant to get involved the governor general privately raised 386 voyaguers, at Britain's expense, to help British forces on the Nile River. 16 of them died. By 1885 many Canadians were offering to volunteer as part of a Canadian force if it was sent, however the government declined to act. This stood in sharp contrast to New South Wales, which raised and paid for its own troops.

The first Canadian commercial representative abroad was John Short Larke. Larke became Canada's first trade commissioner following a successful trade delegation to Australia led by Canada's first Minister of Trade and Commerce, Mackenzie Bowell. [ [ History of Canada-Australia relations] ]

In 1909 Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier reluctantly established a Department of External Affairs and the positions of Secretary and Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs largely at the urging of the Governor General Earl Grey and James Bryce, the British ambassador in Washington, who estimated that three-quarters of his embassy's time was devoted to Canadian-American matters. The Alaska boundary dispute was resolved by a commission in 1903 at which the British delegate sided with the Americans, stunning Canadians into a realization that the Empire's interests were paramount to Canada's. In protest the Canadian judges refused to sign the award, issued 20 October 1903, and violent anti-British feeling erupted in Canada. [ Hohn 2005]

Because of Canada's important contributions to the British war effort 1914-18, prime minister Sir Robert Borden insisted that Canada be treated as separate signatory to the Treaty of Versailles and it subsequently joined the League of Nations.

The government operated a Canadian War Mission in Washington D.C. between 1918-1921, but it was not until William Lyon Mackenzie King became prime minister in 1921 that Canada seriously pursued an independent foreign policy. In 1923, Canada independently signed the Halibut Treaty with the United States at Mackenzie King's insistence - the first time Canada signed a treaty without the British also signing it. In 1925 the government appointed a permanent diplomat to Geneva to deal with the League of Nations and International Labour Organization. Following the Balfour Declaration 1926, King appointed Vincent Massey as the first Canadian minister plenipotentiary in Washington (1926), raised the office in Paris to legation status under Philippe Roy (1928), and opened a legation in Tokyo with Herbert Marler as envoy (1929).

After the outbreak of war in 1939, Canada rapidly expanded its diplomatic missions abroad. The period from 1945-1957 is considered the golden age of Canadian diplomacy under Lester B. Pearson, when Canada had its greatest impact on world diplomacy. In 1982 responsibility for trade was added with the creation of the Department of External Affairs and International Trade. In 1995 the name was changed to Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

Canada has carried out its foreign policy through coalitions and international organizations. It is argued by some critics that Canada no longer carries as much diplomatic weight because of the cut-backs to the military and foreign aid budgets by the government of Jean Chrétien.

The are two major elements of Canadian foreign relations.

Canada-United States relations

The bilateral relationship between Canada and the United States is of extreme importance to both countries. About 75%-85% of Canadian trade is with the United States, and Canada is the United States' largest trading partner. While there are disputed issues between the two nations, relations are close and the two countries famously share the "world's longest undefended border."

Canada was a close ally of the United States in both World Wars (though in both cases Canadian involvement preceded US involvement by several years, due to Canada's alliances with Britain), the Korean War and the Cold War. Canada was an original member of NATO and the two countries' air defences are fused in NORAD.


Just as important to the Canadian identity is Canada's strong support of multilateralism. Canada is seen as one of the world's leading peacekeepers, sending soldiers under U.N. authority around the world. Canadian external affairs minister, Lester B. Pearson, is sometimes credited with inventing the modern concept of peacekeeping, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Canada is also committed to disarmament and is especially noted for its leadership in the Ottawa Convention to ban land mines.

In the last century Canada has made efforts to reach out to the rest of the world and promoting itself as a "middle power" able to work with large and small nations alike. This was clearly demonstrated during the Suez Crisis when Lester B. Pearson mollified the tension by proposing peacekeeping efforts and the inception of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force. In that spirit, Canada developed and has tried to maintain a leading role in UN peacekeeping efforts.

Canada has long been reluctant to participate in military operations that are not sanctioned by the United Nations, such as the Vietnam War or the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, but does join in sanctioned operations such as the first Gulf War and Afghanistan. It was also willing to participate with its NATO and OAS allies in the Kosovo Conflict and in Haiti respectively.

Despite Canada's track record as a liberal democracy that has whole-heartedly embraced the values of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its obvious commitment to global security, Canada has been left out of every major plan for Reform of the United Nations Security Council.

Canada hosted the third Summit of the Americas in Quebec City. Canada also seeks to expand its ties to Pacific Rim economies through membership in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC). Canada also is an active participant in discussions stemming from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Canada joined the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1990 and has been an active member, hosting the OAS General Assembly in Windsor, Ontario, in June 2000.

Other bilateral and plurilateral relations

Canada maintains close links to the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth Realms, with which Canada has strong historic ties and shares a monarch. It also remains a member of the Commonwealth.

In recent years Canadian leaders have taken increasing interest in Latin America.Canada has had diplomatic relations with Venezuela since January 1953. The relations between the two countries have been based on mutual commercial interests; especially in technology, oil and gas industry, telecommunications and others. Canada has an ungoing trade dispute with Brazil.


Canada's international relations are the responsibility of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), which is run by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, a position currently held by David Emerson. Traditionally the Prime Minister has played a prominent role in foreign affairs decisions. Foreign aid is delivered through the Canadian International Development Agency.

Federalism and foreign relations

One of the most unique aspects of Canadian foreign policy is the high level of freedom the provinces have to operate internationally. Despite the fact the federal government worked hard to win responsibilities for foreign affairs for itself as that power was slowly reliquished by Britain, the provinces have always had pretensions in this area, dating from Quebec's first represetative to France in the 1880s. Most provincial governments have a ministry of international relations, both Quebec and New Brunswick are members of La Francophonie (separately from the federal delegation), Alberta has quasi-diplomatic offices in Washington (currently staffed by former cabinet minister Gary Mar). Provincial premiers were always part of the famous Team Canada trade missions of the 1990s. In 2007 Quebec premier Jean Charest proposed a free trade agreement with the EU

Provinces have always participated in some foreign relations, and appointed agents-general in the United Kingdom and France for many years, but they cannot legislate treaties. The French-speaking provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick are members of "la Francophonie", and Ontario has announced it wishes to join. Quebec, ruled primarily by separatist governments since 1976, has pursued its own foreign relations, especially with France. Alberta opened an office in Washington D.C. in March 2005 to lobby the American government, mostly to reopen the borders to Canadian beef. With the exception of Quebec, none of these efforts undermine the ability of the federal government to conduct foreign affairs. Ultimately it is the federal government which has to weigh and balance the various issues which affect provinces differently, and sometimes there are winners and losers.

"See also":
*Alberta International and Intergovernmental Relations
*Department of Intergovernmental Affairs (New Brunswick)

Territorial and boundary disputes

Canada and the United States have negotiated the boundary between the countries over many years, with the last significant agreement having taken place in 1984 when the International Court of Justice ruled on the maritime boundary in the Gulf of Maine. Likewise, Canada and France had previously contested the maritime boundary surrounding the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, but accepted a 1992 International Court of Arbitration ruling.

Remaining disputes include managed maritime boundary disputes with the US (Dixon Entrance, Beaufort Sea, Strait of Juan de Fuca, Machias Seal Island). Also, there is a dispute with Denmark over the sovereignty of Hans Island and surrounding waters in the Kennedy Channel between Ellesmere Island and Greenland.

Arctic disputes

A long-simmering dispute between Canada and the U.S. involves the issue of Canadian sovereignty over the Northwest Passage (the sea passages in the Arctic). Canada’s assertion that the Northwest Passage represents internal (territorial) waters has been challenged by other countries, especially the U.S., which argue that these waters constitute an international strait (international waters). Canadians were incensed when Americans drove the reinforced oil tanker Manhattan through the Northwest Passage in 1969, followed by the icebreaker Polar Sea in 1985, both without asking for Canadian permission. In 1970, the Canadian government enacted the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act, which asserts Canadian regulatory control over pollution within a 100-mile zone. In response, the Americans in 1970 stated, “We cannot accept the assertion of a Canadian claim that the Arctic waters are internal waters of Canada.... Such acceptance would jeopardize the freedom of navigation essential for United States naval activities worldwide.” A compromise of sorts was reached in 1988, by an agreement on “Arctic Cooperation,” which pledges that voyages of American icebreakers “will be undertaken with the consent of the Government of Canada.” However the agreement did not alter either country’s basic legal position. In January 2006 David Wilkins, the American ambassador to Canada, said his government opposes Stephen Harper's proposed plan to deploy military icebreakers in the Arctic to detect interlopers and assert Canadian sovereignty over those waters. [ Matthew Carnaghan, Allison Goody, "Canadian Arctic Sovereignty" (Library of Parliament: Political and Social Affairs Division, 26 January 2006) at [] ; 2006 news at [] ]

Details of Canadian relations by country or organization


Primary Sources

* Walter A. Riddell, ed; "Documents on Canadian Foreign Policy, 1917-1939" Oxford University Press, 1962 806 pages of documents

econdary Sources

* Bothwell, R. "Canada and the United States" (1992)
* Matthew Carnaghan, Allison Goody, "Canadian Arctic Sovereignty" (Library of Parliament: Political and Social Affairs Division, 26 January 2006) at []
* Eayrs James. "In Defence of Canada". 5 vols. Toronto: University of Toronto, 1964- 1983. the standard history
* Annette Baker Fox; "Canada in World Affairs" Michigan State University Press, 1996
* Jamie Glazov. "Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev's Soviet Union" 2003
* Holmes John W. "The Shaping of Peace: Canada and the Search for World Order". 2 vols. University of Toronto, 1979, 1982.
* John M. Kirk and Peter McKenna; "Canada-Cuba Relations: The Other Good Neighbor Policy" University Press of Florida, 1997
* Kohn, Edward P. "This Kindred People: Canadian-American Relations and the Anglo-Saxon Idea, 1895-1903" (2005)
* George Melnyk; "Canada and the New American Empire: War and Anti-War" University of Calgary Press, 2004, highly critical
* Ronnie Miller; "Following the Americans to the Persian Gulf: Canada, Australia, and the Development of the New World Order" Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1994
* Molot Maureen Appel, "Where Do We, Should We, Or Can We Sit? A Review of the Canadian Foreign Policy Literature", "International Journal of Canadian Studies" (Spring-Fall 1990).
* Galen Roger Perras; "Franklin Roosevelt and the Origins of the Canadian-American Security Alliance, 1933-1945: Necessary, but Not Necessary Enough" Praeger Publishers, 1998
* Reid, Escott. "Time of Fear and Hope: The Making of the North Atlantic Treaty, 1947-1949" McClelland and Stewart, 1977.
* James Rochlin; "Discovering the Americas: The Evolution of Canadian Foreign Policy towards Latin America" University of British Columbia Press, 1994
* Stacey C. P". Canada and the Age of Conflict, 1921-1948. Vol. 2. University of Toronto, 1981. the standard history
* Stairs Denis, and Gilbert R. Winham, eds. "The Politics of Canada's Economic Relationship with the United States' University of Toronto, 1985.
* Brian J R Stevenson. "Canada, Latin America, and the New Internationalism: A Foreign Policy Analysis, 1968-1990" 2000
* Robert R. Wilson and David R. Deener; "Canada-United States Treaty Relations" Duke University Press, 1963


Selected dates of diplomatic representation abroad

*Australia - 1939 - first high commissioner Charles Burchell
*Belgium - January 1939 - first ambassador Jean Désy
*China - 1943 - first ambassador General Victor Odlum
*France - 1882 - agent without diplomatic status Hector Fabre
*France - 1928 - first minister Philippe Roy
*France - 1944 - first ambassador George Philias Vanier
*International Criminal Court - 2003 - first Judge-President Philippe Kirsch
*Japan - May 1929 - first minister Sir Herbert Marler
*Mexico - January 1944 - first ambassador William Ferdinand Alphonse Turgeon
*Netherlands - January 1939 - first ambassador Jean Désy
*Newfoundland - 1941 - first high commissioner Charles Burchell
*United Kingdom - 1880 - first high commissioner Sir Alexander Galt
*United Nations - first ambassador General Andrew McNaughton
*United States of America - 1926 - first minister Vincent Massey

International Organizations

Canada is a member of the following organizations:
*United Nations
*Commonwealth of Nations
*Commonwealth realms
*La Francophonie
*Organization of American States (OAS)
*North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)
*Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
*North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
*World Trade Organization
*Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)

Organizations with headquarters in Canada

*International Air Transport Association
*International Civil Aviation Organization

Major treaties signed in Canada

*Ottawa Treaty or "Mine Ban Treaty" (1987)
*Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer (1987)
*Great Peace of Montreal (1701)

ee also

*Ambassadors from Canada
*List of Canadian Secretaries of State for External Affairs
*List of Canadian Ministers of Foreign Affairs
*List of Canadian Ministers for International Cooperation
*List of Canadian Ministers of International Trade
*List of Canadian High Commissioners to Australia

*List of Canadian ambassadors to the United Nations
* International relations
* Radio Canada International

External links

* [ Foreign Affairs Canada - Heads of Posts List]
* [ Embassy: Canada's Foreign Policy Newsweekly]
* [ Canada's place in world affairs]
* [ Foreign Affairs Canada - Canada and the World: A History] a history of Canadian foreign policy.
* [ Foreign Affairs Canada - Country and Regional Information] a summary of Canada's relations with each foreign government as well as some international regions and organizations

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