Law Matters | Winter 2018-19

Canada's International Obligations


At Law Matters we always strive to keep our finger on the pulse of Canadian legal discourse. Our last edition — published shortly after cannabis legalization — discussed the implications of legal cannabis for municipal regulation, immigration, workplace safety, and criminal law. Here, we discuss another pressing issue currently facing Canadians: Canada’s international obligations.

Examples of the recent controversy surrounding Canada’s international obligations — and, more broadly, of legal issues with international scope — are plentiful.

At home, the Global Compact has been a divisive legal and political issue. Some raise concerns about its implications for Canadian sovereignty; others argue that, as a non-binding agreement, the Compact raises no such concerns, and is nothing more than partisan pandering. For a thorough discussion, The Docket has a detailed interview with Louise Arbour who personally worked on the Compact as Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration. Similarly, the recent RCMP occupation of the Unist’ot’en Camp in northern British Columbia likewise stimulated discussion about Canada’s commitment to international standards regarding Indigenous peoples.

International issues have also been at the forefront of Canadian legal media with respect to issues abroad. In December, Canadian officials arrested a top executive of Chinese tech giant Huawei for extradition to the United States in relation to fraud allegations. In seeming retaliation, China has detained multiple Canadians, and sentenced one to death. And of course, the ostensible assassination of Jamal Khashoggi — a Washington Post reporter — drew international headlines across the globe. The international dimension of these issues expand their scope, complicate their analysis, and in turn, demand even greater attention and adversarial discussion.

In this edition, we take on various international issues. Michelle Hoffmann — who was part of the core legal team supporting CUSMA negotiations — provides a helpful overview highlighting key components of the agreement, and explains why it is no Faustian bargain. Further, Professor Nigel Bankes discusses Bill C-626 and Canadian legislative efforts to implement UNDRIP (the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples), and in turn, make greater efforts to “decolonize Canadian law and the Canadian legal mind.” For additional analysis on implementing UNDRIP, see this helpful discussion from former Executive Legal Officer to the Chief Justice of Canada, Gib Van Ert. Lastly, we include two accounts from international trailblazers who provide insights into how lawyers interested in the international arena can get involved. Amanda Bahadur — born and raised in Calgary, Alberta — discusses the Young Lawyers International Program which provides new calls the opportunities to work abroad promoting global development and the rule of law; in her case, YLIP brought her to Guyana, where she has been working tirelessly to promote LGBTQ+ rights. And Vincent Wong — a prestigious Human Rights Fellow at Columbia Law School — sat down with me to discuss his experience working with human rights, and how, whether at home or abroad, there are many worthy human rights initiatives for lawyers to get involved with.

In an increasingly globalized world, we can no longer remain blind to the increasingly interconnected world we live in. Many of the most heated debates of our generation — from climate change, to President Trump’s border wall — are innately international. So join us in reflecting on Canada’s international obligations, both at home and abroad.

Joshua Sealy-Harrington
Editor, CBA Alberta Law Matters