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CDR asked Halifax correspondent, Jay Heisler, to drop in on the Halifax International Security Forum which, this year was presented virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Here is our report.


This year, as the conference went fully online, Halifax, Nova Scotia remained in the thoughts of the international panelists and organizers, and there were frequent remarks about how much each speaker missed Halifax and regretted having an opportunity to meet with each other in person as per previous years.

Canada was at the forefront of this year’s Forum. Canadian Minister of Defence, Harjit Sajjan, gave opening remarks to the conference and also participated in a high-level panel about Canada’s successes as a middle power and the lessons Canada could offer the rest of the world.

Sajjan’s opening remarks included partisan digs at the preceding Stephen Harper administration, saying the Trudeau administration has since raised the percentage of budget spent on the military. Sajjan also thanked the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces for their role in the pandemic response.

“Here in Canada all levels of government are working together to keep Canadians safe,” Sajjan said in his opening remarks. He added that his administration would work with any administration in the US and looked forward to working with the next US administration.

“The Canada-US relationship is probably the closest relationship we have in the world,” he added.

HISF Founder and President Peter Van Praagh told CDR that Canada is central to the Forum’s mission. “The agenda remains relevant, it remains impactful, and it emphasizes Canada’s values around the world,” said Van Praagh.

“Of course, Canada is a middle power, and Canada understands the importance of cooperating with other democracies and other nations.”

This year, Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance, was the recipient of HISF’s Builder Award.

“HISF bridges gaps and recognizes that no single actor has all the answers,” said Vance in his acceptance speech.

Vance added that success for the Canadian Armed Forces “…. is about being better coordinated with industry.”

Andrew Duncan is a former Hollywood film producer who made the activist film “Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower,” about Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong. Duncan was a participant in this year’s HISF and has been involved in previous years.

Duncan told CDR that HISF “… did a great job under incredibly adverse circumstances” and that there were “many great speakers.” Duncan went on to explain how the Forum was a stark reminder of the threat posed to democratic countries by a rising China.

China did take centre stage at HISF this year, with many panels and speakers addressing the challenges posed by a rising China to the world’s democracies.

However, international rivalries notwithstanding, perhaps the main take-away from the 2020 Halifax International Security Forum was a clear message of Canadian success – a shining moment for Canadian “Soft Power,” where the Forum proffered Canada a leadership role among democracies during a cataclysmic point in history.


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