At past Canada Day bashes at the glitzy Canadian Embassy in the U.S. capital, organizers worried about protests being held outside the building on Pennsylvania Avenue, particularly over the Keystone XL pipeline in recent years.
This year, it’s those inside the building who are kicking up a protest.
The 30 Canadian foreign service workers at the embassy, most of them in high-ranking positions, are among the 1,350 members of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers who have been in a legal strike position against the federal government since April.
In D.C., they’ve been timing their job walkouts to coincide with big events at the embassy and high-profile visits from cabinet ministers at a time when reaching out to Obama administation officials, Capitol Hill lawmakers and American media outlets on a host of issues, most notably Keystone XL and the ongoing trade dispute over country-of-origin meat labelling, is particularly critical.
The absence of key staff was noticeable during two recent ministerial visits.
Without the presence of the embassy’s top media relations staffer, Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s office failed to meet with any resistance when it barred Canadian and U.S. media from a recent event involving Senator John McCain.
In a ceremony that would have made for a newsworthy photograph, Mr. MacKay presented an honorary doctorate from the Royal Military College of Canada to Mr. McCain, who donned the college’s ceremonial robes to accept the honour. Media were only allowed into the event after the ceremony in a shutout that baffled the American journalists who showed up.
During Ed Fast’s visit to the embassy last week to participate in a roundtable with Canada-U.S. stakeholders, the only embassy employee assigned to the international trade minister went with him when he departed the building to attend meetings on Capitol Hill, according to one of the event’s participants.
Those remaining were not given the customary escort to the main lobby, meaning they were free to wander the six-storey building, where corridors are lined with high-priced art works, at will – the type of security breach almost unheard of at 501 Pennsylvania Ave.
“This is the sort of stuff that falls apart when they don’t come in,” said one embassy staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Things get dropped, briefing notes don’t get done, there isn’t as much media outreach, and it’s not an ideal situation. There have been no major disasters, but certainly it causes a lot of hiccups.”
The striking diplomats are also refusing to work any after-hours events since the work-to-rule action began, causing logistical and organizational headaches for the embassy.
They won’t be at the Canada Day pancake breakfast on Monday, leaving what’s known as “locally engaged” staff to handle the affair. Nor will they work the Fourth of July festivities at the embassy, an event also co-hosted with the Canadian American Business Council featuring a fireworks display from the sixth floor terrace of the building that looks out over majestic Capitol Hill.