President Sirisena with Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau
By Vidya Abhayagunawardena
The Canada-Sri Lanka relationship has developed over fifty years involving various sectors - socio-economic, political, trade and government-to-government projects. Apart from the government-to-government engagement and trade, Canada’s contribution to civil society was remarkable in the past, particularly in language rights, gender, human rights, youth, vocational training and plantations. Some of the initiatives that were supported by Canada in the past are still benefiting the Sri Lankan people. A notable generous gift such as railway engines donated by the Canadian government to Sri Lanka fifty years ago, still run on our railway tracks.
Rajapaksa-Harper Relations and the Change of the Government
During the Mahinda Rajapaksa and Stephen Harper period, the Canada-Sri Lanka relationship was totally fragile. Canada was openly critical of post-war Sri Lanka’s policies (rehabilitation, reconstruction and reconciliation) relating to the war and the country’s engagement with the international community, particularly with the UN Human Rights Council. When Sri Lanka hosted the Commonwealth’s Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo in 2013, Canada headed by the then PM Stephen Harper, openly boycotted the meeting.
Since January 8, 2015, Maithripala Sirisena is our country’s new President. To bring about this change, many civil society organizations, political parties, including the major political party, the United National Party formed the United Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) which toppled the previous MR regime. The previous United People’s Front Alliance (UPFA) government led by ex-President Rajapaksa had lasted for nearly a decade after 2005. After the three decade-long war which ended in 2009 in Sri Lanka, the UPFA government was not able to efficiently and effectively engage in and address the norms of post-war reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation. At the same time, growing criticism of the UPFA Govt. over various issues including corruption and post-war human rights violations and negative engagement with the international community by the MR regime, led to its collapse at the Presidential election in January. Again the UNFGG formed a National Government in September 2015 after the Parliamentary election, defeating the UPFA.
In the same manner, on November 4, 2015, Canada’s Justin Trudeau became the new Premier of Canada. Canada’s political change was because civil society and various political parties were frustrated on various issues negatively addressed by the previous Conservative Government led by Stephen Harper since 2006. He was under severe criticism on issues such as the Accountability Act, Afghanistan Mission and its detainee issue, withdrawal from Kyoto Protocol, Repeal of the Long-gun Registry, Senate expenses scandal, Missing and murder of Aboriginal women etc.
The Future of sri lanaka - Canada Relationship
During the last decade Sri Lanka has totally neglected the important subject of disarmament which the country had championed in the past. Canada should urge post-war Sri Lanka to become a state party for the Ottawa Treaty also known as the Mine Ban Treaty, the Convention on Cluster Munitions and other disarmament initiatives and post-war Sri Lanka becoming a zero mine-affected country soon. At the recently concluded CHOGM in Malta, President Sirisena and PM Trudeau had a bilateral discussion.
In the discussion President Sirisena recalled the excellent bilateral relations that the two countries enjoyed during the tenure of Trudeau’s father, the late Premier Pierre Trudeau and urged that the relationship should be restored.
Vidya Abhayagunawardena worked as the Coordinator for the National Languages Project (NLP) and its present Coordinator (volunteering) for the Sri Lanka Campaign to Ban Land Mines (SLCBL). He can be reached @ firstname.lastname@example.org