Paradis defends mining executive on advisory panel on international aid

OTTAWA – Christian Paradis, Canada’s new development minister, is standing firm on two controversial policies — using a mining executive as one of his key advisers and not funding abortions in cases of war rape.

Both policies will remain as Paradis moves forward in the coming months with the major task of integrating the former Canadian International Development Agency into Foreign Affairs, the minister said Wednesday.

The merger was first publicized, with no fanfare, in this year’s federal budget.

Paradis is carrying forward the Conservative government’s plan to integrate private businesses in Canada’s overall development strategy — an approach that’s been tried in places such as the United Kingdom, but that nonetheless remains unpopular with some aid groups.

Paradis defended the appointment of Jacynthe Cote, the chief executive of Rio Tinto Alcan, to a five-person advisory panel on the restructuring of his department.

“Actors from various sectors are represented on this panel. When you want to break the cycle of poverty, of course the private sector has to be there,” Paradis said Wednesday in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“In Canada, we are strong in terms of agriculture and in terms of extractives. I think we have the best practices in the world, and there are good opportunities to help poor countries develop their resources.”

Paradis said he is relying on the advice of non-governmental agencies, academics and former officials to advise him on Canada’s new development strategy.

The other members of the panel are: Janice Gross Stein, director of the Munk School of Global Affairs at University of Toronto; Scott Gilmore, chief executive of Building Markets; Nigel Fisher, a senior UN official on Syria; and Susan Cartwright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former foreign policy adviser.

Paradis, one of three cabinet ministers comprising the newly branded Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, also affirmed his department’s denunciation of rape as a weapon of war.

But Paradis reiterated that Canada won’t fund aid projects that pay for the abortions of child brides or war rape victims — a position already made clear by his cabinet colleague, Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch.

Their decision has since sparked an outcry among non-governmental agencies, civil society groups and opposition politicians.

“This approach represents a serious setback on women’s human rights and the health and well-being of survivors of sexual violence and girls in early and forced marriages,” said a letter last week to Paradis and Leitch from more than two dozen organizations and opposition MPs.

“UN Secretary General Ban-Ki moon has made clear that ‘access to safe emergency contraception and services for the termination of pregnancies resulting from rape should be an integral component of any multisectoral response.'”

That did not sway Paradis, who said the government would continue to fund projects under its $3 billion commitment for maternal and child health made as part of a 2010 initiative at the G8 summit in Muskoka.

“It doesn’t mean we are sitting on our hands when we speak about these crimes. We condemn them vigorously.”

Nicolas Moyer, executive director of the Humanitarian Coalition, suggested the government’s position won’t have a broad impact on the access of abused women or girls to abortions if they need one.

“This is one of many tools in a toolbox. But it’s also not the most important one. There’s no doubt that there are many more important elements that relate to maternal health,” said Moyer, whose coalition includes CARE, Oxfam, Plan Canada and Save The Children.

He said individual Canadians who donate money to aid groups can specify that their funds are used for that purpose, if they want.

“The Canadian government can make its own decisions in this regard. But they’re not the final say either.”

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.