Marking 150 years since Confederation provides an opportunity for Canadian international law practitioners and scholars to reflect on Canada’s rich history in international law and governance, where we find ourselves today in the community of nations, and how we might help shape a future in which Canada’s rules-based and progressive approach to international law gains ascendancy.
In this video, the three editors of the book Reflections — Oonagh E. Fitzgerald, Valerie Hughes and Mark Jewett — discuss some of the main topics discussed in the book and why it's important to reflect on Canada's past, present and future in international law and governance.
I’m Mark Jewett. I’m counsel at Bennett Jones, a law firm based in Ottawa.
My name is Valerie Hughes. I’m an adjunct assistant professor of international trade law at Queen’s University in Kingston.
Hello, my name’s Oonagh Fitzgerald. I’m the director of the International Law Research Program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, and I am one of the co-editors of the book project Reflections on Canada’s Past, Present and Future in International Law.
It’s been a long time since we’ve had a book like Reflections. We’ve had many books that look at specific aspects of international law and specific elements of Canada’s contribution. What this book does is it brings together all kinds of different perspectives: international human rights law, international economic law, taxation, treaty law, Aboriginal law, intellectual property law — all of it coming together in one source.
The first section of the book, entitled “The History and Practice of International Law,” looks at two big topics. One is how international law is negotiated by Canadians, so our history of entering into treaties. The second part of this first section deals with the particular relations between the Government of Canada and Indigenous peoples. So, in our early history, treaties were made between Indigenous communities and the settlers. And these were, more or less, they were international agreements, but over time they’ve been subsumed under Canadian law and we’re refreshing our perspective on these to look at them from an international point of view, to see if we can help develop the nation-to-nation relationship that needs to exist between Indigenous people and others in Canada.
The part I worked on was international law, governance and innovation. And principally on three areas of law, selected international economic law, international environmental law, and intellectual property law. I think one of the most important contributions Canada has made is in the area of trade, dating from the Auto Pact in 1965, through the Free Trade Agreement with the United States in 1987–88, followed by NAFTA and followed by CETA. These are major contributions by Canada to the international community.
In the last section of the book, entitled “International Human Rights Law and Humanitarian Law,” we look at specific topics in this area. The last paper in the collection deals with the issue of child soldiers, which has been a really difficult problem for military forces over the last couple of decades, this being particularly apparent in conflicts in Africa. These were issues that were raised by Roméo Dallaire when he came back from the conflict in Rwanda, and people have been working on them for a long time, trying to figure out, what is the solution? How does a trained soldier deal with a child who is holding a machine gun? And what’s interesting in this paper is it studies how Canada has taken steps in the Canadian Forces to develop guidance on this topic.
The book concludes with a section on new challenges in international law. And now we hear a lot about the challenges to multilateralism, the move to protectionism and nationalist policies, so this section is going to be an important reflection on where we are now and how Canada can use its history, but also perform a leadership role as we go forward.
So these are all examples of the huge challenges that the world faces going forward. And the book — Reflections — provides a great grounding for that discussion into the future in that it shows us the history of where we came from, it shows us ways to improve our participation in international law, it shows where we’ve been leaders and it shows us the way that we can be leaders into the future to help solve these very complex global issues.