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Year in Review: 2019

The stories that stayed with us — and were critical to our understanding of the world this past year.

By: /
19 December, 2019

From our editors

With NAFTA negotiations largely over by the end of last year, 2019 started out with what felt like the opportunity for Canada to see through some of its other priorities on the world stage: contributions to peacekeeping, to the women, peace and security agenda, to humanitarian assistance for Myanmar’s Rohingya minority, and to combatting climate change at home and abroad.

As is often the case in the world of global governance, even the best laid plans can be blown off course. Already embroiled in a political and economic dispute between the United States and China, Canada found itself dealing with the fallout this year, which included the continued detention of two Canadians in China and resulted in a change in its diplomatic team there. Canada’s peacekeeping mission to Mali was kept short, and its campaign to win a United Nations Security Council seat put on the backburner, it appeared, as the country’s political parties increasingly focused on domestic concerns in the lead up to October’s federal election.

But there were events to celebrate, too. Canada’s hosting of the Women Deliver conference in June was largely deemed a success and resulted in significant funding pledges. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Canada’s first ambassador for women, peace and security. Earlier this month, the new NAFTA trade deal, the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA, also known as USMCA), was finally signed.

At OpenCanada, our small team has the privilege and the responsibility of covering these important events and bringing you stories that we think have fallen off the radar. We’re once again proud of the work of our wonderful contributors from around the globe. They consistently share their insights and reporting on issues ranging from human rights in Iran, women’s rights in Sudan and the fight for democracy in Hong Kong, to the complexities of the Canada-Cuba relationship and why media freedom matters the world over. Some of the stories that stayed with us most — and that were critical to our understanding of the world in 2019 — are listed below.

Thank you once again for reading. We look forward to continuing to cover issues like these, as well as asking critical new questions that will inevitably come up, in 2020.

Eva Salinas, managing editor
Catherine Tsalikis, senior editor

1. Shaparak Shajarizadeh and the fight for women’s rights in Iran


Portrait of Shaparak Shajarizadeh. Credit: Sami Chouhdary /

In an interview with Celine Cooper, Iranian activist Shaparak Shajarizadeh speaks about her protest against the compulsory hijab and why she finally left her home for Canada. READ IT HERE.

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2. A challenge to men in 2019: Embrace gender issues within foreign policy

women event France

French Junior Minister for Gender Equality Marlene Schiappa addresses guests who attended an International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women event at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, November 25, 2017. REUTERS/Ludovic Marin

Both men and women in foreign policy circles should place more value on issues involving gender — Lauren Dobson-Hughes lists five ways to do so. READ IT HERE.

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3. Ten women making waves globally

women's march

People gather for the Women’s March in Toronto, Canada, January 19, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

This International Women’s Day, we asked 10 Canadian or Canada-based women working on international issues — including Andrea Reimer, Jacqueline O’Neill, Katharine Hayhoe, Rasha Jarhum and Liz Bernstein — to reflect on those who inspire them. READ IT HERE.

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4. UNDRIP’s fundamental flaw

UNDRIP illustration

Illustration by Kanienkehá:ka artist Victoria Ransom

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was created with intrinsic power structures intact — leaving the state with ultimate control. Hayden King asks: Can the original spirit of the declaration still be salvaged? READ IT HERE.

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5. What I have learned about healing, 25 years after living through genocide in Rwanda

Rwanda candle

A girl stands in the background after escorting the Rwandan genocide memorial flame, April 5, 2014. REUTERS/Noor Khamis

Now a Canadian resident, Régine Uwibereyeho King explains what reconciliation and post-conflict programs might learn from her own experience. READ IT HERE.

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6. Canada’s Syrian resettlement efforts: A flash in the pan?

Syrian refugees 1

Syrian refugees hold Canadian flags as they take part in a welcome service at the St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church in Toronto, December 11, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

As Gareth Chantler reports, Canada’s resettlement program brought in 60,000 Syrians over the past four years. Should it be seen as a success? READ IT HERE.

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7. Finding empathy in the age of rage


A woman, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, stands next to the border wall, carrying her child, December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Human rights scholar Payam Akhavan reflects on how today’s brand of hateful populism differs from that of the past, and what is required to change course. READ IT HERE.

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8. In Sudan, a test not only for democracy but for women’s rights

Sudanese women

Sudanese women stand in a street in Khartoum, Sudan, April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

As Kelli María Korducki writes, women have been at the forefront of the uprising in Sudan. But can they translate that role into a more positive positioning in the country’s next chapter? READ IT HERE.

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9. A farewell to the ‘larger than life’ Binyavanga Wainaina

Illustration by Sami Chouhdary / Reuters

Canadian journalist Arno Kopecky remembers working alongside the ‘pure force of narrative’ who taught the world as much about rejecting African stereotypes as he did the human condition. READ IT HERE.

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10. What the fight against far-right violence in Greece tells us

Greece protest

Protesters hold a banner depicting late Greek anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas during a rally marking four years since his death, in Athens, September 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Patrick Strickland reports from Greece, where the consequences of impunity for violent crime against minority groups has left deep scars, offering a cautionary lesson for the rest of the world. READ IT HERE.

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11. Dark Days for Canada-Cuba relations


A view of the seafront in Havana, Cuba. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

There has been a long friendship between Ottawa and Havana. But, as Lana Wylie writes, a perfect storm has been brewing to reverse decades of cooperative trade, travel and politics. READ IT HERE.

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12. The only way forward for media freedom


People attend a symbolic funeral prayer for Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, Turkey, November 16, 2018. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir

After policymakers and journalists met earlier this year in London, former Middle East correspondent Kareem Shaheen explains why supporting independent media is the key to press freedom in that region — and to democracy everywhere. READ IT HERE.

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13. Is global cooperation on social media governance working?

Grand Committee

A nameplate is pictured after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg failed to appear at the International Grand Committee on Big Data, Privacy and Democracy meeting in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

As international collaboration increases, Sabrina Wilkinson weighs in on the pros and cons of the multilateral approach. READ IT HERE.

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14. The high stakes in Hong Kong’s battle for democracy

Hong Kong

Anti-extradition bill demonstrators protest at the departure hall of Hong Kong Airport, August 12, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

There are two possible outcomes of the current Hong Kong protests: success for pro-democracy demonstrators or an authoritarian triumph for China. As Michael Petrou writes, either result will have dire consequences for democracy everywhere. READ IT HERE.

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15. A chance to rebuild democracy — one brick at a time

Ottawa's Centre Block

Canadian members of parliament and staff pose in the House of Commons in advance of the closing of Centre Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, December 12, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Legislatures around the world are getting facelifts, Madelaine Drohan writes, giving parliamentarians an opportunity to shore up democracy, too. Will they take it? READ IT HERE.

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16. 10 principles to guide the transition to a green economy


An underground pipeline marker is pictured near the Kinder Morgan tank farm in Burnaby, British Columbia, in 2014. REUTERS/Ben Nelms

Given the climate emergency, can Canadians overcome the political obstacles to dramatically reducing their dependence on fossil fuels? Former environmental commissioner Dianne Saxe provides a roadmap to do it. READ IT HERE.

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17. Palantir’s big push into Canada


Palantir Technologies CEO Alex Karp arrives at the Tech for Good summit in Paris, France, May 15, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

As Justin Ling writes, the data mining giant is branching out in Canada — now with a Trudeau ally heading its operations here. Should Canadians be concerned? READ IT HERE.

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18. Chile: From neoliberal to social policy experiment?

Chile 1

A demonstrator waves a Chilean flag during a protest against Chile’s government in Santiago, October 30, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

After weeks of unrest, Chile, long seen as Latin America’s ‘economic miracle,’ is quickly becoming ground zero for social policy reform. As Eva Salinas asks: Is change possible? READ IT HERE.

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19. What Haiti taught me about good-intentioned policies and their colonial power structures


Children play with kites in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

In the wake of the UN’s response to sexual abuse in Haiti, Chantel Cole visited the country with a team of Canadian researchers. She explains what she learned there about the importance of local actors having a seat at the policymaking table. READ IT HERE.

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20. At Canada’s spy agency, a new Women’s Network safeguards progress on gender equality


Illustrations by Abhilasha Dewan.

As Catherine Tsalikis writes, when CSIS was created, its culture mirrored the male-dominated environment at the RCMP. Thirty-five years later, women are taking up space, on surveillance missions and around the executive table. READ IT HERE.

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