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News

Where Was Canada at Major UN Anti-corruption Meeting?

Trudeau's team turned out huge for Paris climate talks, but skipped Russia gathering.

By Bob Mackin 9 Dec 2015 | TheTyee.ca

North Vancouver-based journalist Bob Mackin, a regular contributor to The Tyee, has reported for local, regional, national and international media outlets since 1990. Find his Tyee articles here.

"Canada is back" is the buzzphrase coming out of the United Nations' Paris climate change summit, which coincided with the UN's Dec. 9 International Anti-Corruption Day.

Nearly 400 Canadian delegates attended COP 21. But where was Canada Nov. 2 to 6 when the UN held the Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption in St. Petersburg, Russia?

The Vienna-headquartered UN Convention against Corruption said via email that the list of participants would be published "in due course." A request to Global Affairs Canada for the list of Canada's representatives and an interview with the head of Canada's delegation came back with a surprising response.

"Government of Canada delegates did not attend this meeting hosted by, and held in, Russia," said spokesperson Tania Assaly via email. "Neither the formal report of the meeting nor the resolutions adopted in St Petersburg have been published. Canada will consider the outcomes when they are available."

Assaly did not explain why Canadian delegates did not attend.

The previous UN conference, held in Panama City in 2013, included five Canadian government delegates led by David Pimm, a senior policy research analyst with the International Crime and Terrorism Division of Trade and Development Canada.

Russia hosted this year's conference while battling allegations related to international soccer and track and field corruption. In October, former UN general assembly president John Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda was charged with taking bribes from Macau real estate developer Ng Lap Seng.

Group warns of climate 'corruption'

The St. Petersburg conference coincided with the swearing-in of the new Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but that should not have been a barrier to Canada sending a delegate. The Caretaker Convention, which spells out how government must continue operating during an election, says "the government acts with restraint… confining itself to necessary public business (either routine or urgent)."

The Global Affairs Canada website says fighting corruption is a priority. "Canada strongly supports international efforts to combat corruption, regarding it as a good governance issue, a crime problem, and a drag on economic, social and political development."

Did the Conservative government plan, before it was defeated in the Oct. 19 election, to send anyone to St. Petersburg? Brad Vis, an aide to ex-International Trade minister Ed Fast, referred questions to International Trade critic Tony Clement, who did not respond.

Under the Conservatives, Canada ratified the UN convention against corruption in 2007. During the federal election, however, senator Mike Duffy and former Harper aide Bruce Carson were both on trial on corruption-related charges. Duffy's breach of trust and fraud and bribery trial continues, but Carson was acquitted of influence peddling in November.

One of the non-governmental organizations that tabled a statement for the St. Petersburg conference was the UNCAC Coalition, which warned that "corruption pitfalls" threatened any progress for a climate change treaty.

The coalition's statement said corruption of local officials can lead to loss of life from shoddy buildings and highways; carbon emissions trading is at risk of fraud; and corruption in natural resource management puts food security and endangered species in jeopardy.

"Finally," the UNCAC statement concluded, "in an era of climate change, with the international community on the cusp of a global commitment to limit global temperature increase, significant public monies will be put towards limiting greenhouse gases and carbon emissions. When economies are drained by bribery and embezzlement, our ability to safely and effectively address climate change is severely compromised."  [Tyee]

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