For decades, Canada has been viewed as a flag bearer for international peace and human rights across the world. The country allocates billions of dollars annually toward international aid to further its foreign policy priorities. Canadian aid, however, is not merely about doling out charity. It is a matter the encouraging and facilitating the empowerment of vulnerable people inspired by Canadian values and principles. This includes freedom, democracy, and rule of law.
Unfortunately, since coming to power in 2015, the Trudeau government has largely ignored this approach and has instead opted for a feminist international development policy driven by ideology. In 2017, Trudeau marked International Women’s Day by committing $650 million of Canadian foreign aid annually towards “sexual and reproductive health and rights” – a euphemism for abortion, sterilization and sexuality education. That same year, the erstwhile Foreign Minister, Chrystia Freeland, proudly proclaimed that sexual and reproductive rights, particularly abortion, are at the core of Canadian foreign policy. Last year, as a pandemic ravaged the world, millions of COVID-19 relief aid were earmarked for abortion in developing nations.
During his U.S. trip in 2017, responding to a question on the then-President Donald Trump’s policy on refugees and national security, Trudeau said, “The last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they choose to govern themselves”. While he was right on that occasion, Trudeau has, however, failed to apply the same principle when it comes to implementing Canada’s foreign aid policy. For the most part, developing African countries are not interested in international Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) intervention. Yet, Canada continues to fund organizations and special interest groups like the International Planned Parenthood Federation and MSI Reproductive Choices (formerly called Marie Stopes International) with hundreds of millions of dollars per year, pressuring countries to legalize abortion. Moreover, considering abortion is a highly divisive and politically charged topic even in Canada, using taxpayer dollars to fund such controversial organizations that have previously been accused of illegal activities and human rights violations in Africa is simply unacceptable.
In seeking to promote his feminist credentials globally, particularly with the United Nations and other major international foundations, Trudeau has wittingly led Canada to conduct the ideological colonization of African nations that is not only unethical but unwelcome. In a world where international diplomacy is a game of high stakes, this self-serving attitude is not going to win Ottawa any friends and will greatly undermine Canada’s global standing and long-term foreign policy goals.
It is also worth noting that in some ways, the Canadian government’s coercive diplomacy tactics mirror those of the Chinese Communist Party. Beijing’s blatantly aggressive ‘wolf-warrior’ diplomacy and human rights violations – such as the hostage-taking of the two Michaels and the genocide of Uyghur Muslims – are all too well known across the globe and have only served to alienate it from rest of the world.
While sexual and reproductive rights may be the values of Trudeau and the Canadian government, they are not shared by several major African countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. Therefore, as a matter of principle, Western countries and rich donors ought to refrain from funding controversial practices like abortion, especially in African countries, where not only do a vast majority of people not approve of the practice but it is also illegal.
The Trudeau government needs to keep its political ideology out of Canada’s foreign aid policy and instead support the real needs of the donor country after assessing their aid request, their ability to benefit from the aid, and the extent to which they are aligned with Canadian foreign policy priorities. In a rapidly changing world where Canadian values are under siege, and countries and institutions are either challenged by rising authoritarianism and nationalism or are increasingly undermined, Canada ought to be stringing together strong ties with like-minded countries that will help achieve its foreign policy goals. Without a doubt, implementing an ideology-free, no-strings-attached foreign aid policy is the principled way to help Canada win trusted partners and to secure its rightful place at the high table of international diplomacy.