Cultural diversity

News Releases / Speeches / Declarations

Canada ratifies the UNESCO Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and joins Québec in leading the ratification campaign

Government of Canada, November 23, 2005 – 2005/11/23

On November 23, 2005, Canada ratified the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions 33 days after its adoption by an overwhelming majority of UNESCO member states (148 votes for, two against, four abstentions) at their General Conference in October 2005 in Paris. Canada thus became the first state in the world to ratify the Convention. It should be noted that on November 10, less than one month after its adoption, the Government of Québec started the momentum toward ratification after National Assembly members unanimously passed a motion to approve the Convention. Canada and Québec thus took the lead in the ratification campaign. And as an observer noted, “By ratifying this Convention, Canada affirms that cultural goods are not mere economic products: They also have a social value. States therefore have a right to take steps to protect culture and its diversity. The Convention is a bulwark against the cultural standardization that threatens the world in a time of globalization.”

Canadian prime minister Paul Martin and Canadian heritage minister Liza Frulla signed the ratification instrument as well as the transmittal letter to UNESCO in the presence of Québec minister of culture and communications Line Beauchamp and Canadian Coalition for Cultural Diversity copresidents Scott McIntyre and Pierre Curzi. All five took a turn speaking to the gallery to highlight this important event that marked Canada’s role as a historic leader. On that Friday, November 25, Canada’s UNESCO ambassador Yvon Charbonneau officially submitted the ratification instrument in Paris to UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura, as stipulated by the Convention.

During the ratification ceremony, Prime Minister Paul Martin proclaimed that “the world of diversity takes precedence over uniformity.” In this respect, he declared: “The Government of Canada was committed to ratifying the Convention before the end of the year and today we met that commitment. Ratifying the Convention is the right thing to do for Canada. It will ensure that the cultures and identities that shape and enrich all of humanity are preserved and transmitted to future generations. I am calling on all UNESCO member states to follow Canada’s lead and ratify the Convention.”

Minister Frulla added: “Early ratification by Canada of this Convention confirms our strong leadership and commitment to the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions. I want to thank representatives of territorial and provincial governments—particularly Québec—as well as the arts and cultural community, and other Canadians on the hard work they have done since 1998 to help develop and build international support for this Convention. Every culture must have the means to promote its ideas, its values, its perspectives on the world, and its hopes. The Convention will allow us to do that.”

Ratification of the Convention, noted an observer, “is just as crucial for Québec, which was instrumental in its development. We should also remember that the Québec government was the first to take an official stand on the need for a legally binding cultural instrument, in June 1999, a few months before the federal government. […] It was therefore only fitting that Minister Line Beauchamp join Paul Martin and Liza Frulla to celebrate this ratification.” Also stressing Québec and Canada’s leadership in the adoption of this Convention, Minister Beauchamp asserted that “we must now rally the support of all countries and work to have it seamlessly implemented.”

Coalition for Cultural Diversity co-chairs Pierre Curzi and Scott McIntyre applauded Canada’s ratification of the Convention for kick-starting an international campaign to ensure the Convention enters into legal effect as soon as possible. According to Mr. Scott McIntyre, also president and publisher of Douglas and McIntyre Publishing Group and representative of the Association of Canadian Publishers, it was only fitting that Canada be the first country to ratify: “Canada started this campaign by putting forward the idea for an international treaty on cultural diversity, and it led the way diplomatically in building international support at every stage of the process of developing and adopting the Convention at UNESCO. Ratification is crucial to seeing the Convention take on a genuine legal life.”

For Mr. Pierre Curzi, Canada’s quick ratification set the stage for it to lead the campaign to ensure the Convention takes on the strongest possible legal and political weight in the years ahead. Curzi also thanked the Government of Québec for actively supporting the Convention campaign and the work of the CCD throughout this same period, and noted with great satisfaction that on November 10 Québec’s National Assembly had voted unanimously in favor of approving the Convention. As spokesperson for UDA (Union des artistes), of which he is also president, he declared: “I wouldn’t hesitate to say that it was mainly cultural professional associations and, to a great extent, artists who won this Convention. This has been a demonstration of what we can accomplish when we work together and respect one another in the cultural community.” However, he noted that the work ahead is considerable: “For this Convention to enter into force, 30 countries must ratify it. And in the spirit of the Convention, our governments must continue to develop and implement cultural policies and programs. Trade agreements and the expanding digital world exert many pressures on our cultural industries and pose serious challenges to artists’ ability to make a living from their art. It is therefore crucial that governments increase funding, strengthen domestic content and ownership regulations, and make supporting artists and creators a priority.”

The Canadian Coalition considers that the UNESCO Convention recognizes in international law the distinctive nature of cultural goods and services, and affirms the sovereign right of countries to apply cultural policies to ensure healthy domestic cultural sectors can contribute to genuine cultural diversity at the national and international levels. As such, it is intended to serve as a counterweight to trade negotiations that pressure countries to give up their right to cultural policies by making liberalization commitments. In this regard, Mr. Curzi asserts, “The reality is that 30 ratifications is the minimum requirement. For the convention to acquire real clout, we will need broad-based ratification by a large number of countries in all regions of the world—Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas. In the months and years ahead, we will be counting on Canada to continue using every diplomatic opportunity in international fora to make the case for other countries to ratify as well.”