Canadian Ambassador Chris Cooter: Turkey, Canada share common humanitarian perspective
by Ali Ünal
ANKARADec 19, 2016 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Ali Ünal
Dec 19, 2016 12:00 am
Canadian Ambassador to Ankara Chris Cooter told Daily Sabah that Turkey and Canada's humanitarian approaches overlap as the two countries have taken significant steps in receiving refugees fleeing from conflict zones, particularly Syria and Iraq and that Canada is ready and willing to provide assistance for Ankara's humanitarian efforts
The Canadian ambassador to Ankara Chris Cooter has said that Turkey and Canada's approaches overlap when it comes to humanitarianism, adding that Canada is ready to take in more refugees and help Turkey.
Speaking exclusively to Daily Sabah, Ambassador Cooter said that 38,000 Syrian refugees came to Canada last year, before adding that they were aware of Turkey's burden of housing over 3 million refugees; but, hopefully, Canada will relieve some of that burden.
Regarding bilateral relations, Cooter said that there is huge potential to improve relations in many fields and he stressed that Turkish-Canadian partnership would also play to "our strength" in certain regions.
Commenting on allegations that Canada is one the countries that the U.S.-based terror leader Fetullah Gülen may escape to, Cooter said that they recognize the importance of this issue for Turkey and added that Canadian border services and law enforcement authorities are all aware of this. However he reminded that currently they did not have any indication that Gülen will head north.
Daily Sabah: What is the current level of bilateral relations between Turkey and Canada?
Chris Cooter: Firstly, I would like to extend my condolences for the terrible terrorist attack in Istanbul that occurred last week. Our foreign minister has extended condolences to the Turkish foreign minister. We stand together with the people of Turkey against terrorism. I should also note the bravery of the people for uniting against terrorism.
Regarding your question, Canada and Turkey have a good standing with each other. However, as it was expressed by both Prime Minister (Justin) Trudeau and President (Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan, there is more potential to tap into. Even though we do not have relations that span over centuries, we do have Turkish Diasporas in Canada and there are Canadian Diasporas in Turkey. Moreover, we are NATO allies and both countries are members of the G20. We also had cooperation in the Balkans in the past. Yet, we don't have the depth and breadth in terms of relations that we have with some other countries of Turkey's importance in the world. So, we have to develop our relations. President Erdoğan told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that Turkey and Canada are about 120 million people combined, and has over a $2 trillion GDP combined, asking "Why don't we build on this?" which I believe is a good question. Moreover, I believe the position of our government requires us to create links with the rising powers in the world like Turkey.
As it is the case with all relations, there are some points which are imperfect; still, as it is a strong friendship, these can be worked through. The trade between Canada and Turkey has doubled since 2006; however, I can say that it is fairly minimal. This is the simple trade part. On the other hand, we have significant investments in Turkey, especially in mining. We would like to have more investments in mining, but also in the high-tech sector as well. Investments can take many forms today and we are currently exploring possible partnerships with a number of Turkish firms.
Canada is developed in certain sectors; for instance, we are the third largest aircraft manufacturer. So, aeronautics is a field we are very experienced in. Turkey, on the other hand, has the advantage of price. Both of the countries, however, lack scale in many cases. Scale is the combination of your international and domestic presence. We found out that Canada and Turkey are a good match in this. We can provide the technical know-how and Turkish companies can put the price factor into the blend.
We also have flexibility in financing; there is an Eximbank called Expert Development Canada. I think it will be able to facilitate more export financing by working with Turkish companies. Our partnership would also play to our strength in certain regions. For instance, Turkey has influence on eastern Africa, while Canada has connections with Francophone African countries. So, we have been talking about the possibilities with companies and we have some ideas which we will work on.
DS: Did President Erdoğan and PM Trudeau set targets to bolster the trade volume between the two countries?
C.C.: President Erdoğan talked about tripling or quadrupling the trade, which is great; however, foreign direct investments for both sides are important and all of this should come together. While trade figures are important, the overall economic relationship is probably more important. For instance, we are interested in working together also in education. Education is how you build networks of people. After you create these networks of people, you can start to do business which can take many forms. I believe it is important to set goals in economic relations; however, considering the scale of the two countries' economies, we can be more ambitious about these goals. Our countries don't know each other that well and I think it's a part of the issue. Canadian businesses, for example, aren't aware of the fact that Turkey is graduating thousands and thousands of engineers and has top-notch construction firms. People in Turkey know certain facts about Canada, mostly about our aerospace programs, probably. However, due to NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), we have expertise in numerous fields. Canada has a creative industry, similar to the ones in the U.S., even though ours is smaller in scope. For example, we do the post-processing of Hollywood films. Thus, I believe what Canada has to offer isn't discovered here yet and that's something we should work on, even if it's going to take years.
DS: Are there talks about a FTA between Turkey and Canada?
It has come up, but wasn't formally launched. As you might be aware, we just completed CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement), which was an immense project. Turkey knows better probably than anyone else the complexity of working with the EU and we had to go through similar complexities as well. Therefore, our capacity to do major trade deals has been constrained for some time.
The form of a trade agreement between Canada and Turkey might be different than the first generation of FTAs (Free Trade Agreement) and might be more extensive like CETA. This is my personal opinion. We will wait and decide our priorities as the new administration in the U.S. comes in.
Canada is one of the great free trading nations. We believe that free trade is good for our economy and it is good for knitting countries together politically, economically and socially. This has to be fair trade, of course. We have lots of expertise in how trade deals work for everybody and we perceive it as a win-win situation.
DS: You have said that there are Canadian investors especially in the mining industry. In which part of the mining industry are they active?
It's mostly metals and gold. This has been going on for 30 years now. We have a number of Canadian companies which are active and exploring. They had invested around $2 billion up until now, and they are looking for opportunities to invest more. The employment figures are also significant, which is in the thousands. With a possible investment, it could provide employment to thousands more. Moreover, Canadian companies in Turkey are very responsible. They talk with the local communities, showing why it's a benefit and doing what is culturally and environmentally sensitive.
We believe there are great resources for mining across Turkey. We want to do more here, as there is a lot of potential.
DS: You have said that the people of Turkey and Canada don't know much about each other. What should the people of Turkey know about Canada?
Regarding the economy, I would say it's the diversity. Most people would know that we have many natural resources, but they don't know we have a large creative industry, strong aeronautics and expertise in oil and gas. Therefore, all modern and post-modern elements of industry are present in Canada.
On the social side, they probably know some facts about Canada, but they probably don't know that Canada is a very diverse country. There are over 200 languages spoken in Canada and more than a hundred of nationalities in Canada. Over 20% of the country is foreign born. The most distinctive part is that we continue to welcome people to Canada. There isn't significant pushback against immigration and refugees. 38,000 Syrian refugees have come to Canada last year, as it was promised by our government. For this year, the immigration numbers are set to 300,000. We will continue to welcome refugees. Refugees from the Middle East will probably comprise 60% of the quota we have for refugees.
There is a humanitarian crisis in Aleppo, as you know. What is Canada's approach and is there any cooperation with Turkey in providing humanitarian aid?
We have good cooperation with Turkey. Our embassy mostly deals with immigration and refugee issues, and we have a regional focus. Therefore, it's essential for us to work with Turkey for the crisis especially in Syria. We have had cooperation in resettlement of the refugees.
We know that Turkey has some concerns about the future of the refugees: how many will stay, how many will return to their countries… We are ready to take more refugees and help Turkey in this matter. Moreover, we are aware of the burden Turkey has with over 3 million refugees; but, hopefully, we will relieve some of that burden.
We are also active in the political level in Syria, especially in the crisis of Aleppo. We have sponsored a resolution at the U.N. General Assembly last week which was condemning the violence in Aleppo. This is really driven by the humanitarian crisis that continues to unfold in Aleppo. Turkey and Canada's approaches are overlapping in the humanitarian perspective.
DS: While there is a global trend towards xenophobia and Islamophobia, Canada stays as an exception to this rule, preserving its multicultural features. How is Canada maintaining this disposition?
We don't have a magic formula and I won't pretend that Canada is a perfect place, as it has its imperfections as well. We have people who are bigoted and do not agree with the immigration levels. A resolution was recently passed in House of Commons against Islamophobia, but it still exists in Canada. There were incidents where mosques were defaced; however, I believe this is on the fringes. The mainstream of Canada actually welcomes immigration. It's true that we were not as good with the indigenous populations in the past, but the Trudeau government is taking some steps to improve their conditions and resolve some issues. Nevertheless, our success lies in finding a balance between the creativity of immigrants and their integration to the economy. We provide language training and other measures to allow a rather smooth integration to the economy.
This hasn't always been our way. If you go back to Canada of the 1970s, there were a lot of prejudices which were broken over time. In Canada, you can have multiple identities and all of them are fine. This took time and effort to evolve.
Today, I can say that we are doing well, but we can't be complacent. The important thing is to look at ourselves and adjust accordingly. In addition, you should address the issues before they get out of hand.
DS: Were there any major incidents of Islamophobia?
There weren't any major incidents, but several minor incidents, all of which we took seriously. I believe the House of Commons addressed the issue accordingly, before it got out of hand. We know that only a really tiny portion of people that took the cloak of pseudo-religion to commit terrorist acts and some of the people are using this to further their political agenda. This is what the House of Commons condemned. Therefore, it reflects what is happening around the world, but also what is happening in Canada.
DS: Is this motion unique, or were there other instances?
I am not aware of other instances. In this case, the motion was initiated with an e-petition backed by 70,000 Canadians who demanded the government to stand up before this issue developed any further. We had had apologies for past acts, for instance, for Chinese Canadians, Sikhs and Native Canadians. It's a public demonstration and declaration by the highest democratic body. It indicates that the state recognizes the problem.
DS: Numerous ministers of Turkey talked about the possibility of Fetullah Gülen fleeing to other countries from the U.S., and Canada is seen as a possible location. How does the Canadian government approach this issue?
Firstly, we recognize the importance of this issue for Turkey. We know that Turkey has identified Gülen and his network as the force behind the coup and we're fully aware of the gravity of the issue. Our border services and law enforcement authorities are all aware of this.
Turkey has an ongoing extradition process with the U.S. and our law enforcement authorities are in regular contact with U.S. law enforcement. So, you can say that we are following the issue. However, currently, we don't have any indication that Gülen will head north.
DS: Gülenists have some institutions and schools in Canada and Turkey has asked its allies to close down their institutions. Are there any steps taken by the Canadian government?
We are working with Turkey in this issue. If there are registered entities or people in Canada, they will be treated in accordance with Canadian law. But our standing offer to Turkey is to work closely on this issue as much as we can.
DS: Does Canada recognize the PKK as a terrorist organization? If so, what is Canada's approach to the YPG and PYD?
Canada recognizes the PKK as a terrorist organization, as it has been outlawed in Canada. We condemn all terrorist action, no matter where it comes from.
DS: Canada is also a member of the international coalition against Daesh, just like Turkey. What is the level of cooperation between Turkey and Canada in this matter?
Our focus has been on northern Iraq, where we have been training the peshmerga, similar to Turkey. We work with Turkey to protect our countries from terrorist threats.
DS: Your country has recently lift visa requirements for Mexico. Do you believe a similar policy can be applicable to Turkey?
We consider each country individually, and in each we look at different factors; so, we cannot say that we should grant visa-free travel to every country just because some are granted. Our immigration and refugee department is monitoring the situation in Turkey. I certainly hope we can grant visa-free travel one day. Moreover, we respond fairly quickly to the visa applications and we have visas which allow multiple entries for up to 10 years. Generally, we welcome people who want to visit Canada.