Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave an address at the UN General Assembly in New York on September 21st, in which he focused on the historical injustices Indigenous people in Canada have faced, the current challenges they are facing, and what his government is doing to address them. Trudeau linked the needs of Indigenous people in Canada to the UN’s sustainable development goals such as clean drinking water, quality education, gender equality and sustainable communities.” Many found Trudeau’s the domestic-themed speech surprising and out of place at the world’s major forum for discussing global problems. Critics also argued that Trudeau was only trying to save face given his government’s inability to resolve these challenges facing Indigenous people. They note that it is due to inadequate funding by his government that many of these communities still do not have clean water.
From the general assembly podium, Trudeau also spoke about his government’s decision to support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This is despite statements by his justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, that the UN declaration was “unworkable.” His Thursday speech was entirely different from the one he gave at the UN last year where he spoke of plans to expand Canada’s presence in UN peace operations. This year, he did not even mention his government’s overdue promise on the UN peacekeeping mission made a year ago.
Trudeau defended the domestic focus of his UN address to reporters afterwards, arguing that Canada must admit its own previous wrongdoings before it can talk to other countries about their domestic problems. The speech seemed to be a part of an attempt to promote a closer relationship between his government and the UN, where Canada is lobbying for a seat on the Security Council in 2021. Trudeau also told reporters afterwards that Canada and the world would benefit if Canada had a seat on the Security Council, though critics find it difficult to see how the seat would be beneficial to the country. They note that current non-permanent members of the security council like Bolivia, Ethiopia, and Senegal can hardly be said to have acquired any considerable amount of international prestige as a result of their membership. There is also a financial cost to pursuing a Security Council seat, and over half a million dollars has already been spent on the campaign for this bid.
While his speech may have been relevant in the way he claimed, Trudeau’s silence on important global issues like the escalating tension between North Korea and the U.S. and violence in Burma was also surprising. Perhaps it was also part of the attempt to protect Canada’s Security Council bid, but it is difficult to see why anyone would have been offended or alienated if he had condemned violence in these countries. After all, President Trump in his Tuesday address to the UN General Assembly delivered his typical alarmist speech, in which he noted that the U.S. may have to “totally destroy North Korea.”