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From our editors

Like others covering global affairs, our team at OpenCanada.org spent much of 2017 reevaluating the needs of our readers in light of the many changes in the world of foreign policy — such as the ushering in of a Donald Trump presidency, a new Canadian foreign minister, renewed negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the heightened urgency around human rights issues, including the persecution of the Rohingya and treatment of women worldwide.

International news this year has been fast-paced and often unpredictable. As a fairly young digital publication with a specific focus — foreign affairs from a Canadian point of view — our team attempted to respond to the world’s changes by seeking out the stories and angles readers would not be exposed to elsewhere. 

2017 also saw a renewed interest in Canada and its progressive policies. While we covered those issues at large — from refugee resettlement to Canada’s new feminist international assistance policy and its digital “election integrity initiative” — we also asked tough questions around, for instance, the lack of new development dollars and potential contradictions in the government’s feminist approach, especially when dealing with the United States.

Here, we highlight some of the pieces we were particularly proud of this year. As the world continues to look to Canada for guidance, especially during its G7 presidency in 2018, we will continue to both celebrate and question Canadian leadership along the way. As always, many thanks to our readers in Canada and beyond for your engagement on these important issues, and for your support of OpenCanada.org.

Eva Salinas, Managing Editor
Catherine Tsalikis, Senior Editor

There was massive applause when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau proclaimed at the United Nations this past September: “We’re Canadian. And we’re here to help.”But is Canada prepared to commit the resources to provide this much needed help? The second edition of Assessing Canada’s Global Engagement Gap examines this question in two ways: first, a review of national income committed to collective security and international assistance; second, a deeper dive into Canada’s international assista...
 
Bruce Heyman — the United States’ most recent ambassador to Canada — hasn’t had a summer off since he was 12. Before taking up residence in Ottawa’s Rockcliffe Park following his appointment by Barack Obama in 2014, he spent 33 straight years working at Goldman Sachs. After resigning from his Ottawa post in early January (“as requested” by the incoming Donald Trump administration), Heyman was very much looking forward to “a time of rest and restoration” back in his hometown of Chicago wi...
 
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is known for its humanitarian response to conflicts, natural disasters and epidemics around the world — its physicians and emergency medical teams work in close to 70 countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. But there is another side to MSF’s mandate, and that is témoignage — the responsibility to bear witness to crises and speak out about the human suffering inflicted on so many by war, poverty and disease.  MSF’s international pr...
 
One week after Donald Trump was elected United States president in November last year, Yale University professor and author Timothy Snyder (Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, 2015; Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, 2010) wrote a concise but impassioned Facebook post, bluntly reminding his fellow Americans that they are “no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism.” “Our one advantage,” he wrote, “is that we might learn...
 
Since raising expectations of an ambitious international agenda, Justin Trudeau and his team have worked hard to cultivate the image of a modern, progressive government, led by a young and hip prime minister who attracts positive international attention, holds his own on the world stage, and says (and wears) the right thing. Yet more than 18 months into its mandate, the Trudeau government has not gone beyond platitudes to fully articulate a vision for Canada’s engagement in the world be...
 
On July 1, Canada celebrates 150 years of nationhood — marking the uniting of three British colonies (Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick). How has Canada's foreign policy changed over time?With the anniversary in mind, this OpenCanada video, written by journalist Michael Petrou and animated by Emmy Award-winning art director Santosh Isaac, explores the challenges and milestones of Canadian foreign policy over the last 150 years.From Canada's outsized contributions during World ...
 
Like most schoolchildren, I absorbed the official story of Canada early in life. It’s incredible how deeply a national liturgy can sink into you, both emotionally and intellectually, over time. There are the obvious causes: reading history or being taught about multiculturalism, medicare, Trudeaumania, or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But I’ve come to rank this formalized acculturation as less significant than the everyday experiences of growing up in a community with a codified a...
 
Afghanistan As they bumped down the two-lane desert road, Lauryn Oates and her team of teacher-trainers watched as a hazy profile of the Hindu Kush mountains rose up in the distance. They had spent the morning escaping Kabul’s traffic, and had just crossed the provincial border when they first caught sight of the militiamen. Curling around the northeast of Kabul, the mountains and shallow plains of Kapisa Province form a strategic sickle long favoured by bandits, smugglers and insurgent...
 
The Trudeau government announced new security legislation last month, including the creation of a “super” watchdog that will oversee existing agencies. But do we still lack an understanding of what these agencies do? Michael Petrou runs through the evolution — and surveillance capabilities — of the RCMP, CSIS and CSE.  In January 1937, as the Great Depression drove increasing numbers of young men into desperate unemployment and, often, political radicalization, the Royal Canadian M...
 
From representing Canada at the United Nations and supporting the Canadian foreign minister on international visits to taking part in free trade talks and working on Canada’s international assistance review, the global experiences open to young Canadians today are myriad. For the second year in a row, OpenCanada is featuring some of the best and brightest working behind the scenes of Canadian foreign policy, in order to give readers of all ages a glimpse into the opportunities available...
 
Like the Great Sphinx of Giza, from which its headquarters at 125 Sussex Drive took inspiration, Canada’s foreign service holds many secrets — the building’s nickname, ‘Fort Pearson,’ speaks to the opacity that surrounds many of its inner workings. The exterior is clad in uninviting horizontal, concrete slabs. Through a canopied front entrance, and past security, is the wood-panelled Robertson Room, where Canada’s government hammered out its response to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest...
 
I spent some of the best days of my childhood on the West Beach of the Anishinaabe community Gchi’mnissing, an Island First Nation in southern Georgian Bay, Ontario. The thrill of jumping into the back of a pick-up truck and bouncing over bumpy dirt roads, dodging the outstretched birch and maple branches to get to what I remember as a magical spot is something that I roll over in my mind on days I think about the Island. There was another beach, arguably more beautiful, but it was prima...
 
“These talks are consequential. There may be some dramatic moments ahead,” Canada's foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, said Monday, in anticipation of the first round of NAFTA renegotiations, 23 years after the agreement first came into effect.As talks begin Wednesday — the second round is expected to be held in Mexico in early September, with the third in Canada at a date yet to be determined — we bring you up to speed on the priorities identified so far by Canada, the United States a...
 
In the largest mass movement of refugees in southeast Asia for decades, more than 400,000 Muslims fleeing a sweeping offensive by the Myanmar army against Rohingya insurgents have walked, swum and taken boats to Bangladesh in the space of three weeks. About 30,000 Buddhists and Hindus are also reported to have fled violence in Myanmar’s coastal state of Rakhine. The scale of the crackdown and exodus, accounts by refugees of extrajudicial killings and — according to the United Nations — ...
 

End of a royal era

It was February 1901 and the news spread through Ottawa with the fading winter light: The Queen is dead. Within hours an empire lurched into mourning. In Canada, city halls and pubs were draped in black bunting, statues wrapped in black and purple crepe. Militias fired 101 guns across nine cities in a salute that lasted over an hour. In Montreal, Victoria Square was piled five feet high in wreaths and flowers. Hundreds of thousands of portraits of the dead Queen were handed out, filling...
 
“It has never been easier to get engaged than it is today,” Canada’s minister of democratic institutions, Karina Gould, told an afternoon crowd at the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa in mid-October. “Digital technologies empower us by offering multiple ways to connect,” she said. She then offered a caveat: “The same digital technologies can be used toward some not so good ends, such as the spread of misinformation online, injected into the public discussion by those who masquerade as legitim...
 
Jagmeet Singh’s election as leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) on October 1 — the first time a visible minority candidate won national party leadership in Canada — is a significant totem and path-breaking political achievement. Symbolically, Singh’s victory is a triumph for all minorities and people of colour in Canada who have faced some form of discrimination or exclusion due to their race, ethnic origin, religion or skin colour. It is an unimpeachable marker of progress for im...
 
On an emerald, hilly landscape — one of the last stops in Europe before you hit the Atlantic Ocean — twin villages face each other. Blacklion and Belcoo have less than a thousand souls between them, carrying out their lives amid their pastel-painted two-storey houses, a handful of pubs, and shops selling sweets, cigarettes and local newspapers. A road links them, meeting in the middle at a stone bridge over a rippling river.  The villages are physically close, but may be about to become...
 
When human rights lawyer Payam Akhavan received a call from the executive producer of CBC Ideas telling him he had been chosen to deliver the 2017 Massey Lectures, the world looked very different: Barack Obama was still in the White House, and the United States had yet to elect Donald Trump, who, as Akhavan puts it, would “radically change our perception of reality.” As 2016 drew to a close, with right-wing populist forces having manifested themselves in events like Trump’s election and...
 

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