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OpenCanada at 5: A look back at some of our favourite pieces

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8 June, 2016
Illustration by Abhilasha Dewan

Five years ago, in the national offices of the Canadian International Council, a conversation was underway. As our founding editor Taylor Owen wrote in his first post, “the discussion was centred around a single question: What if the CIC wanted to build the online hub for international affairs discussion in Canada?”

After rigorous planning and many roundtable discussions, OpenCanada was born. In the age of the 24/7 news cycle and shrinking foreign coverage budgets, we wanted to provide a digital platform that would bridge the gap between media and academia and allow readers to engage in dynamic conversations on foreign policy and international affairs.

The site has since provided readers with analysis and coverage of some of the most important global events over the past five years — from the start of the Syrian conflict, to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, to the election of a new Canadian government under Justin Trudeau. With contributors across Canada and well beyond, we have experimented with format — our rapid response and roundtable groups, our dispatch blog, Google hangout video panels, dozens of Q&As, in-depth series and infographics and, more recently, longform narrative journalism. Many of you will have noticed we launched a redesigned website in October 2015, marking the start of yet another chapter, thanks to a new partner, the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

Overall, this site has been a labour of love. We look forward to the next five years covering Canadian foreign policy and global affairs. In the meantime, from the thousands of articles we’ve published so far, we have compiled 25 of our favourites.

When the refugees came

After Canada’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis came under fire last September, we shared five key moments highlighting Canada’s legacy of offering asylum to those fleeing their homes. Now that the new Liberal government has taken action and resettled thousands of Syrian refugees, we can add a sixth moment to the list. Published: September 4, 2015

Principles have nothing to do with the Saudi arms deal. Canada is choosing one dictator over another 

Shortly after it was exposed that the C$15 billion arms contract with Saudi Arabia was not in fact “concluded,” as Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion originally led Canadians to believe, Michael Petrou compares Dion to a heroin dealer, while arguing that there are practical, and not ethical, reasons Canada aligns itself with Saudi Arabia instead of Iran. Published: April 14, 2016

Understanding ISIS: Myths and Realities

As the Islamic State emerged from the power vacuum of the Syrian civil war and claimed swaths of territory across Syria and Iraq, the terrorist group rapidly entered the public consciousness and had many asking: what do we really know about ISIS? This series from early 2015 explores some of the myths and realities that shape our understanding of the terrorist group. Published: April 20, 2015

Starting a new conversation about aid

Amid a flurry of loose commentary and weakening debate on Canada’s foreign aid spending, this three-part series seeks to answer one question: “How should Canada’s foreign aid structures be improved?” John McArthur and other experts unpack the biggest myths surrounding foreign aid, assess the current global landscape and, finally, propose a way forward. Published: June 21, 2013

Turning Perception into Reality: Canada in Africa

“Canada’s image as a humane internationalist country deeply engaged with Africa relies on an idealized version of history, where we have provided steadfast support to the continent through aid, development assistance, and peacekeeping,” writes David Hornsby. Using infographics, he explains that while Canada’s engagement with Africa remains disappointing, a rapidly changing continent could offer new opportunities. Published: November 7, 2013

Lorelei Williams, founder of Butterflies in Spirit dance group. Illustration by Angela Sterritt.

A Movement Rises

For our series, The Politics of Inequality, Indigenous journalist and artist Angela Sterritt tells the stories of those who have kept the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people in the headlines for decades: “Their powerful actions help bring the light back to a dark tale, for at the heart of their stories, and at the heart of this larger national story, is love, and a willingness to fight for change and equality within Canada.” Published: November 20, 2015

Drone Week

Over the course of a week, we published a series of essays penned by experts to allow for an open debate on the implications of drones and the swarm of strategic, ethical and legal questions that come in their wake. Published: December 10, 2012

Six dangers of overreacting to terrorism

“Overreacting to terrorism is understandable,” writes Benoît Gomis, but the response to the issue needs to be rational and proportional to avoid unintended consequences. From rampant discrimination to harmful foreign policies, Gomis lists six main dangers associated with overreacting to terrorism. Published: November 9, 2015

Spies gone wild?

William Bendix and Paul Quirk assess both Canada and America’s intrusive surveillance programs and offer recommendations on institutional reform that would strengthen oversight of intelligence services and improve policy deliberations on national security strategies. Published: November 13, 2013

Putin’s Party

In an infographic, we illustrate how the bill for the 2014 Winter Olympics totalled a whopping US$50 billion. From beefed up security to transportation infrastructure, we explore the lengths Russian President Vladimir Putin was willing to go to exude success at Sochi. Published: February 7, 2014

Illustration by Simon Prades

Back to Nigeria: Stories from the battle against Boko Haram

With essays from Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, the International Crisis Group’s EJ Hogendoorn, Amnesty’s Christoph Koettl, journalist Tolu OgunlesiShelly Whitman of the Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, and Marie Lamensch and Nicolai Pogadl with MIGS, we bring you six different ways to gain a better understanding of a crisis that deserves to stay front of mind even when it disappears from the headlines. Published: October 15, 2015

Seven foreign policy wishes for Canada’s new government

We asked Canadian diplomats to name the most important changes or elements for Canada’s foreign policy going forward and they had some interesting suggestions. From reinstalling Canada’s pluralist tradition to reforming the foreign service, we’re keeping an eye on whether any of these wishes come true. Published: October 20, 2015

Pitting Capital Against the Climate: Q&A with Naomi Klein 

We are not going to get anywhere close to where we need to get…unless we have an ideological battle of ideas about what role we think government should play.” In this 2014 interview, Naomi Klein shares the worrying effects of capitalism, but also reminds us of the growing social and environmental movements around the world. So, hey, we might not be doomed after all. Published: September 16, 2014

Buzz Kill

As the global use of drones remains unfettered, Taylor Owen asks: what are the human and strategic costs of this uninterrupted drone presence? How does one live under the constant buzz and imminent fear of death?

Published: March 12, 2013

The Syrian Refugee Crisis 101 

From who is considered a refugee to why some countries are denying them entry, Aisha Kakinuma-Hassan provides answers to all your questions regarding the “the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era.” Published: December 10, 2014

Twitterati women

Twitterati 2015: The Women in Foreign Policy Edition

Each year we publish an expansive list of who’s driving the foreign policy conversation on Twitter with a particular framing. In 2015, we compiled a list of women to watch on social media, from journalists covering international affairs to policymakers addressing the world’s most urgent crises to activists furthering gender equality. We capped it at 75 profiles, but truth be told, we are happy to report it could have been a much longer list. Published: December 23, 2015

Canada’s global engagement gap 

In a quest to understand Canada’s global commitment, Robert Greenhill and Megan McQuillan compared Canada to its international peers in terms of spending on military and development programming. In this detailed multimedia report, they conclude that Canada “meets the statistical definition of an international free rider.” With the Liberals now in power, Canada is once again in a position to step up. Greenhill and McQuillan’s question still holds weight: “Will we?” Published: October 6, 2015

Ten Facts about Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia 

As the knowledge became public that Canada intends to sell an unprecedented amount of Light Armoured Vehicles to Saudi Arabia, Cesar Jaramillo provided readers with 10 things to know about the C$15 billion deal that has triggered significant protest over the past few months. We also break down the arms deal visually herePublished: November 25, 2015

In Conversation with Stephen Lewis, the United Nations’ sharpest critic and greatest champion 

In one of the most refreshingly honest interviews we have ever published, Stephen Lewis frankly discusses the strength of UN agencies, Ban Ki-moon’s leadership, and Canada’s role at the UN going forward. Published: November 28, 2015

Canada’s IR scholars: who they are and where they think you should go to school

Steve Saideman breaks down who’s who in Canadian international relations and what they consider to be the best university programs for those interested in pursuing a career in that field. The results illustrate a glaring lack of diversity in Canada’s scholars. Published: February 12, 2015

Green Energy Gap
Design by Cameron Tulk

The Green Energy Gap

We mapped out the “green energy gap” – that is, the amount that countries rely on renewable energy in relation to fossil fuels and nuclear power. While countries across the globe are generally embracing renewable energy, our infographic shows that we’ve still got a long way to go. Published: July 21, 2014

Cyber Security Syndrome 

Nowhere is the tension between global citizenship and the nation-state system so apparent as it is in cyberspace. Ron Deibert explores the evolution of cybersecurity agencies that lurk in the shadows, what they do, who funds them, and the international implications of such practices. Published: November 25, 2014

Thomas Drake on Whistleblowing, Oversight, and the Future of Electronic Surveillance 

Edward Snowden was not the first whistleblower at the National Security Agency. Scott Young spoke to Thomas Drake, a former NSA executive who leaked classified information, about whistleblowing, oversight and the future of electronic surveillance: “Surveillance and secrecy is absolutely anathema to liberty and privacy.” Published: March 20, 2014

A revolutionary Pope?

With his softer, more accepting views on gay marriage and abortion, Pope Francis has been dubbed a radical religious figure who will transform the Vatican. But the reality, A. Alexander Stummvoll writes, is that the priorities and style of those at the helm of the Catholic Church have always changed with history. Published: January 17, 2014

Video killed a star charity: The downfall of Invisible Children

Andrew Green visited northern Uganda to look into the remains of a charity that skyrocketed to fame in 2012 and sparked a conversation around the ethics of humanitarianism. Published: November 5, 2015

Before you click away, we’d like to ask you for a favour … 


Journalism in Canada has suffered a devastating decline over the last two decades. Dozens of newspapers and outlets have shuttered. Remaining newsrooms are smaller. Nowhere is this erosion more acute than in the coverage of foreign policy and international news. It’s expensive, and Canadians, oceans away from most international upheavals, pay the outside world comparatively little attention.

At Open Canada, we believe this must change. If anything, the pandemic has taught us we can’t afford to ignore the changing world. What’s more, we believe, most Canadians don’t want to. Many of us, after all, come from somewhere else and have connections that reach around the world.

Our mission is to build a conversation that involves everyone — not just politicians, academics and policy makers. We need your help to do so. Your support helps us find stories and pay writers to tell them. It helps us grow that conversation. It helps us encourage more Canadians to play an active role in shaping our country’s place in the world.

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