Canada will continue to deploy warships and military aircraft to joint anti-drug operations in the Caribbean and off the Pacific coast of Central America to show Ottawa's ongoing commitment to the counter-narcotics effort in the Americas, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Tuesday.
He called those periodic deployments, usually to the U.S.-led Joint Interagency Task Force South, the "most visible" of Canada's hemispheric counter-narcotics efforts.
In a speech to the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Defense Board, Mr. MacKay said such operations demonstrated that the "men and women of the Canadian Forces are routinely working in partnership with both military and law enforcement personnel from many of your countries" in the battle against the multi-billion dollar illicit drug trade.
Mr. MacKay said the effort "is beneficial to all of us – it enriches (our neighbours') security and also prevents crime from flowing into other countries, including Canada."
Later Tuesday, the minister was to present Senator John McCain, the Republican hawk and Vietnam war veteran who backed the war to oust Saddam Hussein and is the most outspoken American proponent of western military intervention in support of the Syrian rebels, with an honourary degree from the Royal Military College of Canada.
In his morning speech, Mr. MacKay said Canada was committed to "fostering lasting relationships" with Latin America.
After a century when nations south of the Rio Grande barely registered on Canada's foreign policy horizon, a slew of trade agreement in the last few years underscores Ottawa's new-found interest in the region.
"Last year, for instance, two-way trade between Canada and the region amounted to about $56-billion – a 32 per cent increase over the 2007 figure – thanks in no small part to the seven free trade agreements we have signed with countries from Mexico to Chile," Mr. MacKay said.
He added that closer ties and co-operation throughout the hemisphere, in trade, exchanges and joint efforts to combat common threats, were vital.
"That's because challenges like drug trafficking, transnational criminal organizations, and natural disasters affect us all," he said. "These threats are complex and they don't respect borders."
Mr. MacKay said Canada was committed to strengthening military and civilian ties with nations of the Americas.
"Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces are committed to the long-term security of the Americas from Alert in Canada's Far North, to Ushuaia," he said, referring to the Argentine city commonly regarded as the most southerly in the world.