The Evolution of Canada’s Tibet Policy
Until 1969, Canadian support for the Tibetan government was often tentative, but steady. Early correspondence between Canadian diplomats in Peking and New Delhi and their counterparts in Ottawa describes Tibet as an independent state incapable of resisting military invasion by Chinese forces.
In 1950, Canada’s Minister of External Affairs Lester Pearson, sent a confidential memo to his Ambassador in Washington. In the memo, Pearson was clear:
“In fact it appears that during the past 40 years Tibet has controlled its own internal and external affairs. Viewing the situation thus, I am of the opinion that Tibet is, from the point of view of international law, qualified for recognition as an independent state”.
By March 1959, as the Lhasa Uprising raged resulting in the deaths of some 10,000 Tibetans, internal Government of Canada documents show that officials were following developments closely and reporting to Ottawa. They attributed the uprising to growing frustration in Tibet over China’s “invasion in 1950”. By June 1959, however, Canadian diplomats were already suggesting that China be admitted to the United Nations and that efforts to assist Tibetan refugees be done quietly and without public fanfare.
By 1970, the international climate had changed and Canada officially recognized the People’s Republic of China. With the establishment of diplomatic relations Canada recognized China’s effective control over the Tibetan territory. In a letter written to the Canada Tibet Committee in July 1988, the Honourable Joe Clark explained:
“… the Canadian Government's view is that Tibet's legal status is that of an autonomous region of the People's Republic of China, as set out in the Chinese constitution."
Following the November 1990 visit of the Dalai Lama to Ottawa when he inaugurated the Human Rights Monument near Parliament Hill, gave testimony before the Standing Committee on External Relations, and introduced his Five Point Peace Plan to Canadians, Canada's official position on Tibet’s political status was amended to reflect a more nuanced and principled approach:
"In 1970, when Canada established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, it recognized the PRC as the sole legitimate government of China. Canada takes no position with regard to specific Chinese territorial claims; it neither challenges nor endorses them."
The position was Canadian policy until 1997 when Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Lloyd Axworthy, adopted a new foreign policy approach he termed “principled pragmatism”. The pragmatic dimension of principle required another change of Canada’s official position on Tibet’s status in 1998:
“When Canada established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China in 1970, we recognized the PRC as the sole legitimate government of China. Canada does not recognize the Tibetan “government-in-exile” led by the Dalai Lama based in Dharamsala, India.”
Since 1998, Canada’s position has remained essentially unchanged, although with some adjustment presumably because of the Dalai Lama’s devolution of power in 2011. In 2013, Canada’s position on Tibet’s status is:
“Canada recognizes the People's Republic of China as the sole, legitimate government of China and does not recognize the Tibetan "government-in-exile". Canada recognizes the Dalai Lama as an important spiritual leader who earned the Nobel Peace Prize and is an honorary Canadian citizen.”
Chronology of Canada-Tibet Relations
- In 1895, Canadian missionary Dr. Susie Rijnhart became the first western woman to enter Tibet. Her attempt to reach Lhasa ended in failure with the death of her husband and infant son. Years later, she too died in Tibet.
- In 1960, 1961 and 1965, Canada voted in favour of United Nations General Assembly Resolutions 1353, 1723 and 2079, which called for the end of practices that deprive the Tibetan people of their human rights and freedoms.
- In 1971 and 1972, more than two hundred Tibetan refugees were admitted to Canada from India under a new government program.
- In 1980, His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited Canada for the first time. He was met by the Governor General Edward Shreyer in Montreal.
- In 1990, five representatives from the Canadian House of Commons and the Senate issued a joint invitation for the Dalai Lama’s first visit Ottawa. These five representatives subsequently formed the Canadian Parliamentary Friends of Tibet (PFT).
- On 28 May 1990, Canadian Ambassador to China (Diller) became the first representative of a foreign power to visit Tibet since the imposition of martial law. The visit included the signing of agreements for Canadian assistance to Tibet.
- In October 1990, the Dalai Lama visited Ottawa for the first time. Secretary of State for Multiculturalism Gerry Weiner greeted the Dalai Lama on the government’s behalf. During the visit, His Holiness was invited to speak to the Parliamentary Committee on External Affairs and International Trade, at which time his Five Point Peace Plan was tabled.
- After the 1990 visit, Canada's position on Tibet's political status was amended to: “In 1970 when Canada established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, it recognized the PRC as the sole legitimate government of China. Canada takes no position with regard to specific Chinese territorial claims; it neither challenges nor endorses them.”
- On 12 May 1993, the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Human Rights and Development held a hearing on the current situation in Tibet.
- In June 1993, the Dalai Lama visited Montreal and Vancouver where he offered Buddhist teachings. He was met in Montreal by Canada's Minister of External Relations Barbara McDougall.
- On 14 June 1995, the Senate of Canada passed a resolution on the situation in Tibet, urging Canada to encourage negotiations between China and representatives of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile.
- In 1996, Canada de-linked the promotion of human rights from its trade promotion initiatives in China, with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade citing “the recent Canadian government decision is not to tie its economic relationship with China to the question of human rights”.
- In 1997, with the establishment of Canada’s Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue with China, Canada’s Tibet policy was revised as follows: "When Canada established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China in 1970, we recognized the PRC as the sole legitimate government of China. Canada does not recognize the Tibetan Government-in-Exile led by the Dalai Lama based in Dharmsala, India."
- In November 1999, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) conducted its first official visit to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).
- In December 1999, CIDA announced its first bilateral development assistance project in the Tibet Autonomous Region, “Basic Human Needs on the Tibetan Plateau”.
- In June 2000, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade’s Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific Raymond Chan made an official visit to Tibet, the first ever by a Canadian official at the ministerial level. He famously remarked that Tibetan prisoners were “happy”.
- On 30 January 2001, more than 80 members of Parliament wrote to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien asking that his office intervene with China in an effort to convene negotiations with representatives of the Dalai Lama regarding Tibet.
- In September 2002, while the Dalai Lama's Envoys were in Beijing to re-open the stalled Tibet-China dialogue, Prime Minister Chrétien endorsed "China's Tibet Cultural Week in Canada,” an event mounted by the Central Government's External Propaganda Department. China’s promotional materials referred to the Dalai Lama as a man "who engages in terrorist activities" and has "organized armed forces".
- In January 2003, the Government of Canada, via its embassy in Beijing, submitted a formal expression of concern to Chinese authorities following the execution of Lobsang Dhondup and death sentence of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche.
- In 2004, CIDA announced that as part of its China Country Development Programming Framework (2005–2010), poverty reduction would be phased out and future programming would focus exclusively on human rights, democratic development, good governance, and environmental issues of critical importance to Canadians. Ethnic minority issues were included as aspects to be specifically considered in programming approaches.
- In March 2004, 159 Members of Parliament wrote to Prime Minister Paul Martin urging an active Canadian role in support of Tibet/China negotiations.
- On 22 April 2004, the Dalai Lama visited Parliament Hill. Prime Minister Paul Martin became the first Canadian Prime Minister to meet His Holiness.
- On 12 May 2004, Geshe Lobsang Tempa testified before the Subcommittee of Human Rights and International Trade.
- In May 2004, the Canada Tibet Committee made presentations to the Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Trade of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
- On 26 July 2004, at the National Press Club in Ottawa, Champa Phuntsok, Governor of Tibet Autonomous Region, extended an invitation to PFT Co-chair Hon. David Kilgour to visit Tibet as part of a Canadian Parliamentary Delegation. Phuntsok promised unrestricted access Kilgour was never granted permission for the visit.
- In September 2004, Tibet Representatives and Jared Genser of Freedom Now (Washington, D.C.) made presentations to the Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Trade.
- On 2 December 2004, the Senate and House Subcommittee of Human Rights and International Trade adopted motions requesting that “Canada uses its friendly relations with China to urge it to enter into meaningful negotiations, without preconditions, with representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to peacefully resolve the issue of Tibet.”
- In December 2004, The Hon. Pierre Pettigrew, Minister of Foreign Affairs, makes a public statement requesting China stop the execution of Tibetan Monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche.
- On 21 April 2005, more than 200 Members of Parliament wore Tibetan scarves (Khatas) in the House of Commons to celebrate the anniversary of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s 2004 visit to Canada.
- In June 2005, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs passed a motion to request Ministers Pierre Pettigrew and David Emerson and officials of Bombardier to appear at Committee hearings concerning the Tibetan railway project.
- In September 2005, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, in a joint Press Conference with President Hu Jintao of the People’s Republic of China, raised the issue of Tibet and specifically encouraged talks between representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and China.
- In June 2006, the House of Commons and the Senate unanimously passed motions bestowing honourary Canadian citizenship upon the Dalai Lama.
- In October 2006, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Peter MacKay, condemned the shooting of unarmed Tibetan refugees attempting to flee Tibet into Nepal by Chinese soldiers.
- In September 2006, the Dalai Lama visited Vancouver and was presented with a copy of the motion bestowing him honourary Canadian citizenship by Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Monte Solberg.
- In November 2006, the Dalai Lama's Special Envoy, Mr. Lodi Gyari, and the Dalai Lama's representative to the Americas, Mr. Tashi Wangdi, visit Ottawa where they met with government officials and testified before the House Subcommittee on International Human Rights.
- On November 28 2006, the Canada Tibet Committee testified before the House Subcommittee on International Human Rights.
- In February 2007, the House of Common’s unanimously passed a motion to “urge the Government of the People's Republic of China and representatives of Tibet's government in exile, notwithstanding their differences on Tibet's historical relationship with China, to continue their dialogue in a forward-looking manner that will lead to pragmatic solutions that respect the Chinese constitutional framework, the territorial integrity of China and fulfill the aspirations of the Tibetan people for a unified and genuinely autonomous Tibet.”
- On January 25, 2010, Canada welcomed the announcement of a new round of talks between representatives of the Dalai Lama and Chinese officials.
- On December 18, 2010, The Government of Canada announced its intent to facilitate the immigration of up to 1,000 Tibetan refugees living in the state of Arunachal Pradesh in India over a five-year period. The announcement was made by Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney
- On August 10, 2011, Canada expressed concern about the treatment of Tibetans in Nepal in a formal dé marche to the Ambassador of Nepal to Canada. Canada called on the Nepalese government to adhere to international standards of human rights.
- On September 7, 2011, Dalai Lama gave a public talk at Montreal's Uniprix Stadium in honour of Canada’s decision to welcome 1,000 displaced-Tibetans living in Northern India to Canada over the next five years.
- On June 24, 2012, the 6th World Parliamentarians’ Convention on Tibet was successfully held in Ottawa, Canada from 27 to 29 April, 2012 gathering Parliamentarians from around the world.
- On December 14, 2012, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird issued a public statement of concern about the escalation of self-immolations in Tibet.
- On February 27, 2013, Sikyong Dr.Lobsang Sangay testified before Canada’s Parliamentary Subcommittee on International Human Rights. During his visit, Dr. Sangay also met with the Parliamentary Friends of Tibet, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Multiculturalism and Citizenship, Hon. Jason Kenney and Leader of the Official Opposition, Mr.Thomas Mulcair.
- On October 31, 2013, Canadian Ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, visited Tibet. There was no media coverage of the visit.
- In November 2013, the first group of Tibetans arrive in Ottawa as part of the Tibetan Resettlement Project.