I want to thank you very much for inviting me here today. This is something that I am passionate about. I've had 10 postings abroad, and in each one consular issues were, to put it mildly, challenging.
This includes post-9/11 Washington, D.C., where I was the Head of the Political Section and we grappled with the cases of Mr. Arar and Mr. Khadr. Then I was ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Peru, and Bolivia, where there were also a lot of consular cases. As Director General of Consular Operations in 2009-11, we dealt with Haiti's and Japan's earthquakes and the Arab Spring. As the chairwoman has noted, I ended my career as Assistant Deputy Minister for Consular Security and Legal, which saw the proliferation of terrorist attacks, civil war in South Sudan, and the attempted coup in Turkey.
I've been involved in many high-profile complex cases, some of them with a colleague who is here today. Some have been resolved. Some linger.
I have really deep admiration for the extraordinary people who do this work. I wrote a short article in The Hill Times that described consular officers as negotiators, confessors, daredevils, and family stand-ins. I think all the people around this table might identify with that profile, since you are also, as legislators, drafted into consular work. At least one of you, I know, has even done consular work in Foreign Affairs. We're all passionate about this, so how do we make it better?
I've read what other witnesses have said. I'll give my take very quickly and then make some suggestions.
On legislation, consular situations are as different as the people in them. Canadian consular workers compare their service to others. Canadian service to their consular clients is consistently among the best, even compared to those that have legislation—for example, the U.S. and Germany.
One thing to keep in mind is that legislation and regulation go hand in hand. There is the potential to turn creative consular officers into form-filling bureaucrats.
For example, under legislation, some of the time now devoted to case management and support could be diverted to preparing, appearing, and evaluating sessions with the new administrative law tribunal that would be created. As we have seen, the charter works. Canadians, including consular officers and politicians, have learned the lessons of post-9/11.
Also, legislation suggests service standards. While being interviewed across Canada on CBC Radio in the midst of the Caribbean and Florida hurricane, I was quite surprised by the idea that Canadian citizens had the right to be evacuated on a government plane immediately. The Canadian government should and does work with a network of international and private sector partners to do whatever is most efficient, effective, and safe.
In that particular case, most Canadians flew back on the airlines that had flown them down. This makes sense. The airlines knew where they were, the airlines knew what the security conditions were, and they had the responsibility. My understanding is that they worked closely with Global Affairs, particularly with the emergency watch and response centre and with something called the “standing rapid deployment team”, which is quite amazing and which facilitated the movement of citizens whose documents had gone with the wind.
On the ombudsman issue, this is a curious proposition. There does not seem to be an actual citizen demand for an ombudsman, nor does it take into account privacy, real-time exigencies, or how the Canadian government actually does its business.
Moving on to privacy, this is serious: the Canadian who is receiving consular services abroad decides what will be shared. When helping a Canadian citizen, this can put the government, or a parliamentarian, at a disadvantage, particularly in the media. There may be awkward conversations with a client's closest family, their friends, and sometimes with lawyers. That is the price. It is the choice of the citizen.
What can we do to improve? As my colleague Dan mentioned, we can do education; outreach. It is the single easiest way to prevent terrible or even irritating situations. Risk is part of the allure of travel, but the risk and the limitations need to be understood better by our citizens. Consular and emergency management tools have to be continuously modernized to educate and to provide this information. In this, agility is key. We go to social media, which now is under consideration, and to whatever we need in order to contact citizens abroad.
We need deeper international discussion. A globalized world needs global responses. The Global Consular Forum exists, but it really needs to be strengthened. The Five Eyes colloque has found a rhythm, but there's always more to be done. Bilateral consular dialogues need to be open, closed, shifted; they need to be flexible.
A colleague of ours, Bill Crosbie, was Assistant Deputy Minister for consular for a long period. He actually created these international bodies. He put forward the interesting idea of an international consular code to create international norms—not a binding treaty, as right now there's not a lot of appetite for that in this world—that could have an impact domestically across the world. High-profile issues for international discussion include multiple nationalities, children, crisis management, and the intersection of human rights and consular.
Canadians with multiple nationalities, as my colleague said, are at particular risk. There are competing pressures. Ethnonationalism is rising along with globalization. For children, this requires a long-term commitment. Any case will be slow and difficult, because it involves parenting, culture, national law, and family dysfunction. The Hague convention is a step forward, but it does need consistent application. There is also the Malta process, which brings together Muslim and western family law experts. For permanent residents, given how difficult it is to advocate for dual or triple citizens in the country of their other nationality, the level of difficulty soars when it comes to non-citizens. This is very much a question of human rights and resources.
My last two points are with regard to work and resources. Consular work should be rightly valued. It is getting better, but those who do this difficult work should be recognized and rewarded. The good news is that there is a consular cadre, a group of highly trained professionals called management consular officers, or MCOs, who are now rotational foreign service officers. As Dan mentioned, there are also dedicated non-rotational experts in Ottawa and amazing locally engaged consular officers. There is, however, a constant shortage of all these experts.
That brings us to resources.
Adequate, dependable funding is required to hire good people, maintain training, initiate and enlarge partnerships, and deal with emerging issues such as mental health or provincial liaison while continuing to station officers abroad where Canadians are travelling.
Thank you very much for listening.