Since the beginning of the year, Canada has often performed very poorly in its foreign relations.
A few weeks ago, Canadians were amazed to learn that an official from Global Affairs Canada had gone to the Russian Embassy in Ottawa to celebrate.
It is the same Russia that is waging an illegal and bloody war against Ukraine. The same Russia that Canada rightly calls genocidal for its horrific actions during that war.
Duty of Care
I spoke to someone at the highest level of the Ministry after this mess, and she was transparent: it was an unspeakable mistake (she used an even more colorful term).
At the same time, she used a phrase that hit the news this week: ” Duty of Care which could be translated as “duty of care”.
This term is intended to encompass the country’s responsibility for its employees, including the employees of our foreign missions.
Canada clearly has a duty to protect them and not to take any action that may jeopardize their safety. Partying with the Russians would keep the doors open.
There are probably those in our diplomatic world who feel that we have a duty to continue being nice to the Russians, otherwise things could go wrong for our staff there.
Reports released this week of alleged weaknesses in local staff at our embassy in Kyiv were chilling.
The accusation is very serious: there would have been a list of our employees who would have been attacked by the Russians in the event of an invasion and Canada would have done nothing or, worse, withheld the information.
According to a Toronto newspaper, Canada would have been briefed on the situation earlier this year.
The problem is that the information would come from “three diplomats” and not “three Canadian diplomats”… That’s an important nuance.
According to Global Affairs, “Had the Minister had information that locally committed workers were under direct threat, she would have taken the necessary steps to ensure their safety.”
It seems unlikely that such information, if any, was ever shared with Ottawa.
I am also inclined to believe that Minister Joly would not have accepted it if the safety of our personnel, whether Canadian or recruited there, were at risk.
In the face of these alarming allegations, a key question arises: who decides?
The answer should be simple, in our system of government it is the minister who decides and who is responsible.
The challenge is that with this “duty of care” doctrine, it is no longer the department that decides, but the person responsible for our foreign assignment. The minister remains responsible, even if she was never consulted or even informed.
As self-evident as it is that the safety of our employees abroad must never be endangered, it is just as urgent to clarify who decides, who must be informed and who is responsible.