Address by Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion on the occasion of a joint press conference with Sri Lankan Minister of Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera
Ayubowan. Vanakkam. Good afternoon. Bonjour.
I’m touched by the warmth and smiles that have greeted the Canadian delegation since our arrival in Sri Lanka last night. Minister Samaraweera, thank you very much for your invitation and the exceptional hospitality we’ve been shown.
I was privileged to meet with both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe this morning.
As has already been conveyed by Prime Minister Trudeau, Canada stands ready to support the Sri Lankan Government to advance peace, accountability, reconciliation and prosperity for all the peoples of Sri Lanka.
My visit this week is an opportunity for me to convey in person Canada’s commitment to helping Sri Lanka to further strengthen its democracy. For this, I am pleased to resume with you a constructive political dialogue at the foreign minister level.
Canada’s engagement with Sri Lanka is built upon strong people-to-people ties. Canada is home to a large community from Sri Lanka, including one of the largest Tamil communities outside of Sri Lanka and India. Canada benefits greatly from the contributions the people of this island have made to our country. Our cultural richness and diversity has been enhanced as a result.
Minister Samaraweera and I discussed today how Canada and Sri Lanka may work together, shoulder to shoulder, to advance peace and security objectives in South Asia.
Canada welcomes the positive engagement by Sri Lanka with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, in the context of the UN Human Rights Council resolution on Sri Lanka, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka and Canada. We welcome the initial steps taken by your government to implement this Resolution, and we note the progress made toward constitutional reforms. In particular, we note the public commitment for the establishment of the Office of Missing Persons, and the release of some lands in militarized zones. However, much more remains to be accomplished.
We encourage your government to take advantage of this momentum to move forward on other reforms, including those to strengthen good governance and economic stability. It is clear that delays in the implementation of these critical reforms are not in the public interest.
Canada has much to share with Sri Lanka including our experience on issues such as official languages, the devolution of power, sustainable economic development, empowerment of women, legal expertise and youth skills development.
Canada is a diverse and inclusive society. As Prime Minister Trudeau said, Canada is strong not despite but because of its diversity, which is a source of openness, acceptance, progress and prosperity. Why should it not become true for Sri Lanka? Going forward, Canada encourages an inclusive process in Sri Lanka that welcomes the participation of all of society and advocates peaceful pluralism.
Canada is committed to helping Sri Lanka further strengthen democracy and peace for all of its citizens. We note the importance of meaningful international involvement in such accountability and reconciliation mechanisms.
One example of meaningful involvement is the promotion of official languages, which is critical for advancing the Government of Sri Lanka’s reconciliation efforts, and fostering an inclusive society. To this end, Canada is offering its support to the Government of Sri Lanka to advance the delivery of public services in both Sinhalese and Tamil.
Canada’s official languages journey has not always been a smooth one, but the effort and investment is worth it.
I am announcing today the National Languages Equality Advancement Project that will be contributing $11.2 million over five years towards improving the delivery of government services in both official languages and by increasing awareness and acceptance of the bilingual nature of Sri Lanka.
There is a need to focus especially on communities most directly affected by the conflict. Canada is ready to contribute to the re-establishment of livelihood opportunities for those displaced.
There is also an obvious need to invest in the new generation, the hope and future of the peoples of Sri Lanka. This is why Canada is supporting programs that train youth for jobs in high-demand sectors.
Today, I announce that Canada will contribute $8.8 million over four years for the establishment of an Entrepreneur Financial Centre in your country, a project implemented by a Développement International Desjardins, in partnership with Sanasa Development Bank. The Centre will help stimulate private sector development and support job creation by improving livelihoods for entrepreneurs of micro, small, and medium enterprises.
Canada will also be there if unexpected events happen in your country, like the flooding and resulting landslides in May of this year. And we are ready to assist Sri Lanka in tackling climate change, not least because of its impact on the frequency and severity of natural disasters.
Canada would like to explore our trading relationship, because this is for the mutual benefit of both of our people. Partnership opportunities are on the horizon in sectors such as aviation, infrastructure, power supply, clean technology and agri-foods.
Minister Samaraweera, I look forward to the discussions planned over the next two days with members of your Government, representatives of civil society, beneficiaries of Canadian development projects and victims who have suffered from the civil war.
I hope you can visit Canada in the near future. I know that we will have much to build on following my visit to Sri Lanka, and I’m committed to working with you to help ensure that Canada’s relationship with Sri Lanka continues to flourish in the months and years ahead.
The trauma from the civil war is still profound and emotions are still raw. The reconciliation journey will be long and strewn with obstacles, but it is important to focus on the future. The long-term objective must be to respect distinct identities while working to bring them together to strengthen the whole country. In a time where apprehension between peoples is causing havoc, trust must triumph.
Thank you. Merci. Obata stutiyi. Nandri.
(July 28, 2016 – High Commission of Canada)