Human rights big for Canada’s FM
By Michael Soltys / Senior Editor
In his one full working day here before flying out early this morning to the Organization of American States (OAS) summit in Asunción, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird gave high priority to paying tribute to human rights alongside institutional visits to his local opposite number Héctor Timerman and Congress. Visits to the ESMA remembrance museum and former concentration camp and to the site of the 1994 AMIA Jewish community centre terrorist bombing just weeks before its 20th anniversary were the focal points of the time remaining from his political contacts and a business round table.
Asked by the Herald about the priority given to human rights when they are not usually considered the trademark image of Conservative governments, Baird replied that he also considered them to be “Canadian values” — furthermore, they were an extremely fruitful part of bilateral ties with Argentina. Later in yesterday evening’s reception at the Canadian Embassy, Baird spoke at length to Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Founding Line leader Nora de Cortiñas, telling her how the story of the Mothers had inspired the world and stressing the importance of “memory.”
Since Canada’s previous Conservative government (1984-93) took the country into both NAFTA and the OAS, the Herald asked Baird about the Stephen Harper government’s hemispheric integration initiatives today. Baird replied that free trade agreements were sought everywhere at both regional and national levels — with countries on both sides of the Pacific, with the European Union and also with Mercosur. Trade and global issues were prominent in his talks with Timerman, he added.
While his formal agenda was limited to yesterday, Baird also spent the preceding weekend here appreciating the “architecture, culture and people” of Buenos Aires. Although only entering federal politics in 2006, he has been foreign minister for the past three years with previous posts in the environment and transport portfolios and as House whip.
Yesterday’s reception hosted by Canadian Ambassador Gwyneth Kutz was also attended by Auditor-General Leandro Despouy, Cortiñas, British Ambassador John Freeman and United States Chief of Mission Kevin Sullivan among others.