By John Baird –
Canada takes its membership in the Commonwealth very seriously. It is for this simple reason that we believe in upholding the basic principles it stands for: freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Without them, what does the Commonwealth stand for?
Despite Canada’s efforts, the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), failed to utilize this summit as an opportunity to address long-concerns and to catalyze meaningful change for the people of Sri Lanka. The Commonwealth failed to put any pressure on a regime that has so blatantly ignored international calls for change. Despite CMAG’s enhanced mandate, which was based on the recommendation of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group and approval by heads of government, it refused to put Sri Lanka on the agenda to allow members an opportunity to discuss these shortcomings.
We failed to use this when it mattered most. As a consequence, we gave this regime a free pass to continue down this path.
The prime minister’s decision not to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka was based entirely on upholding the principles of the Commonwealth. This was not a decision taken in haste. It was carefully considered with one aim in mind: for Canada to send a message about our displeasure with an organization that has failed to stand up for its fundamental principles. How can an organization like the Commonwealth reward a country like Sri Lanka, not just with hosting a summit, but by allowing it to chair the organization for two years? And after no meaningful reconciliation following a brutal and violent struggle?