The Liberal government is dispatching Transport Minister Marc Garneau to Paris this weekend in a bid to keep the World Anti-Doping Agency headquartered in Montreal, as some members of the agency's executive committee are considering moving it to Europe.
The decision by the Prime Minister's Office to send Mr. Garneau, a senior Montreal cabinet minister, is seen as a strong signal about Canada's desire to remain a major force in the anti-doping movement. The government is hoping to persuade the international community that the agency, known as WADA, should stay in Canada, a country that has the reputation of being free from corruption in sport.
The deal to keep the headquarters in Montreal ends in 2021. Canada is pushing for another 10-year agreement to keep it in the city, but there are some concerns that committee members with Olympic ties want to move it to Switzerland, where the International Olympic Committee is based, or somewhere else in Western Europe.
Opponents to this move argue that WADA should be kept out of Europe in order to preserve its independence as the IOC battles accusations of corruption.
"Those who want it to be in Montreal, that are not Canadians, want it there to make sure that it remains at arm's length and independent," said a senior Canadian official, who was not authorized to comment publicly on the matter.
Mr. Garneau will represent the Canadian government as part of a pitch to the executive on Sunday in Paris. He has also been working closely with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Minister of Sport Kent Hehr to prepare for the meeting and has been making calls for weeks to ensure Canada's position is clear to the international community.
"The government of Canada is taking this very, very seriously. All partners are working collaboratively to present the best pitch possible on Sunday," Mr. Garneau said in a statement to The Globe and Mail.
Ottawa is working with the Quebec government and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre on the file. Montreal International, an economic-development agency that seeks to attract and retain foreign investment in the city, will be directing the pitch, but Mr. Garneau will also address the members of the executive himself. The agency employs about 80 people in Montreal.
Short-track speed skater Isabelle Charest, who is Team Canada's chef de mission for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games, said many athletes fear that moving WADA to Europe would call into question its impartiality.
"Would it be too close to the IOC? … We want a process that's transparent," Ms. Charest told The Globe.
"One thing you know when you're a Canadian athlete, is that Canada has always been a leader in the fight against doping, and you know your teammates are clean."
After the pitch on Sunday, the executive committee is expected to make a recommendation to a larger foundation board about whether to keep WADA in Montreal, or to open up bids for a new host city in 2021.
The committee is made up of 12 members, half of whom come from the Olympic movement. The other half are public authorities, including four ministers from Norway, Australia, Japan and Poland, and two non-Olympic organizations.
The agency was established in 1999 and is involved in scientific research, education, development of anti-doping capabilities and monitoring the World Anti-Doping Code, which harmonizes the policies of all sports and countries, according to its website.
There are also regional offices in in Cape Town, South Africa; Lausanne, Switzerland; Montevideo, Uruguay; and Tokyo.
The IOC has faced criticism in recent years over its handling of doping scandals, most recently with Russian athletes, as well as a string of corruption cases involving senior members.
A group of the world's leading national anti-doping organizations (NADOs) recently called for the Russian Olympic Committee to be excluded from next year's Winter Games over alleged state-sponsored doping.
In a joint statement issued last week after a two-day meeting in Denver, the NADOs also criticized the IOC for "continuing failure in its obligations to clean sport."
A WADA commission in 2015 found that more than 1,000 Russian competitors in more than 30 sports were involved in a conspiracy to conceal positive drug tests over a period of five years.
Russia escaped a blanket ban at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro although it was, and remains, barred from competing in athletics.
The statement was backed by anti-doping leaders from countries including Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Britain and the United States.