Trudeau Conference

On 22 November 2013, Constitutional Transitions director Sujit Choudhry spoke at the 10th Trudeau Foundation Conference in Montréal, participating on the panel discussion “Canada in the World.” The Hon. Louise Arbour, President and CEO of the International Crisis Group and former UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, also participated on the panel. Professor Choudhry is a 2010 Trudeau Fellow; Arbour served as a Trudeau mentor in 2004. Topics included human rights and democracy in the wake of the Arab Spring, the futures of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and the International Criminal Court (ICC), and Canada’s role and future in international affairs.

Discussion began with democracy and the Arab Spring, where Choudhry noted the important differences among Arab countries in their respective transition processes, emphasizing that no perfect model exists to work across all Arab countries. He stressed a need for inclusivity in the constitution building process and institutional safeguards to avoid a path towards new authoritarianism. Arbour added that constitutions are “living documents,” noting that the constitutional design process is often rushed and increased attention is needed particularly on the judicial branches of governments.

In discussing the role of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), Arbour underscored the fact that R2P is a humanitarian doctrine, not a conflict resolution doctrine; its use has been inconsistent, and that renders its future somewhat unclear. Conversation then turned to the ICC, which Arbor described as “currently under an enormous amount of stress.” Choudhry echoed that sentiment, adding that charges without any ensuing enforcement serve to “undermine the credibility of international criminal justice.” He also noted growing concerns over cost-effectiveness and selectivity, referring to the fact that ICC’s attention has been almost exclusively on Africa.

Asked about Canada’s international roles, Choudhry said that there has been some disengagement. Among growing importance of regional groups, Canada is the “oddball,” explained Arbour, squeezed somewhere between the Americas and Europe. She voiced the importance of partnerships with independent think tanks and foundations in the country’s international affairs, but added that Canada does not have the deep financial wells offered by American philanthropies. To revitalize its role in multilateralism, the country “needs a brand,” claimed Choudhry, as some other states have successfully done; he suggested a focus on nonpartisan issues that would help to build democratic infrastructure.

In the panel’s final remarks, Choudhry stated that Canada’s strength lies in “its moral attractiveness as a certain type of political, economic and legal model. That’s how Canada gets moral authority in certain discussions, and why people listen when Canada speaks.”

Watch the video of the panel here.