Friday, 01 October 2021 19:00
Estonian Life No. 39 2021 - Kevin Rex
August 26, 2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic relations between Canada and the Republic of Estonia. Our history as friends and allies, however, goes back much further. As we prepare to celebrate this important milestone in our bilateral relations, it is my great honour to share with you, dear reader, some of our stories.
The first Estonian settlement in Canada was established in 1899, near Sylvan Lake in central Alberta, some 7,049 km away from Tallinn! Since then, Canada has warmly welcomed tens of thousands of Estonians to our shores, representing one of the largest Estonian diasporas in the world. As a vast land, Canada was in search of talented immigrants and its distance from the World Wars and subsequent Soviet occupation made it a welcome and safe harbour for those fleeing persecution.
This robust Estonian diaspora is at the heart of our bilateral relations. Canadians of Estonian heritage now live across Canada and remain proud of their roots, while contributing to Canadian business, sports and culture. Canada embraces official multiculturalism, and works closely with organizations such as the Estonian Central Council, Estonian World Congress (ÜEKN), and the Baltic Federation of Canada. In fact, the first Estonian World Festival was held in Toronto in 1972.
The crowning jewel of the Estonian diaspora story in Canada will be the brand new KESKUS International Estonian Centre in downtown Toronto, opening in 2022. This stunning building will be a dynamic attraction, showcasing Estonia’s rich heritage and promoting Estonian innovation. It will be a vibrant gathering place for Estonian-Canadians of all generations and backgrounds to connect and celebrate their culture and achievements.
With people as our foundation, our two nations have always enjoyed strong ties, despite our geographic distance. Canada did not recognize the Soviet occupation of Estonia after the Second World War and was one of the first countries to recognize Estonia’s restored de facto independence in 1991.
Canada was also one of the first countries to ratify Estonia’s accession to NATO in 2004 and today, Canada and Estonia enjoy positive and constructive defence relations mainly through the NATO framework. Canada has provided Estonian military officers with English and French language training, peacekeeping skills and other types of professional development support. Canada sends officers to attend the Baltic Defence College in Tartu and has been providing that institution with lecturers and course development assistance since 2001. The College’s most recent Deputy Commandant and Chief of Staff was Canadian Colonel Jean Trudel. Upon completing his four-year positing in Tartu in June, he declared that he would now refer to Tartu as his home, as it was the longest he has ever lived in one city!
Canada’s engagement in the Baltics has been increasing, in line with NATO’s strengthened assurance and deterrence measures in the region. The most visible element of this defence posture is NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) in Central and Eastern Europe, made up of multinational NATO battle groups deployed in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. Canada has taken a leading role as an eFP Framework Nation in Latvia and has deployed 540 Canadian troops into the battle group under Operation REASSURANCE. Canada also contributes Canadian Armed Forces personnel to the NATO Force Integration Unit in Estonia and the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE), based in Tallinn. In 2014, Canada contributed $1 million to the CCDCOE to purchase new hardware for cyber defence exercises. These contributions all add up and the Baltic region is now home to the largest Canadian military deployment anywhere in the world!
This enhanced presence has also meant greater exchanges between our nations’ leaders. In May 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hosted Prime Minister Jüri Ratas in Ottawa. While there, the leaders signed a memorandum of understanding on digital cooperation to allow our two countries to work on joint projects and share best practices to empower citizens, promote transparency, improve government services, and boost economic growth. More recently, in June of this year, Prime Minister Trudeau and Prime Minister Kaja Kallas discussed the future of NATO together as part of a Brussels Forum NATO 2030 event.
November 2019 saw the first ever visit by a Canadian Head of State, Governor General Julie Payette, to Estonia. Her Excellency President Kersti Kaljulaid welcomed the Governor General. Together they visited a classroom where students program Micro:bit computers using laptops. The Governor General also visited the e-Estonia Briefing Centre to learn about e-services offered by Estonia. Afterwards, Her Excellency participated in discussions at the NATO CCDCOE and at the Estonia Academy of Science. A musician herself, one of the highlights of her visit was a private meeting with Arvo Pärt, followed by a public concert with Canadian and Estonian artists at his remarkable Centre.
These visits, our shared history and our like-mindedness together open the door for remarkable cooperation between our two nations. Canada and Estonia are both strong supporters of the rules-based international order. We cooperate to support the government of Ukraine, for example. Only a few short weeks ago, our Foreign Ministers sat down together in Vilnius at the Ukraine Reform Conference to find even more ways to work together. Supporting human rights and democracy in places like Belarus and Venezuela are two other common causes.
Good friends and allies are also good trading partners. Estonia was one of the first countries in the EU to ratify the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada in September 2017. CETA eliminated 99% of the customs duties between the EU and Canada. In the year following ratification, bilateral trade between our countries grew an amazing 84.3%! Estonia exports ten times more goods to Canada than we send here, a 100.4% increase over the pre-CETA period. This fact demonstrates how much Canadians appreciate your quality work!
Canadian business is doing well in Estonia too. Did you grab a coffee and fill up your car at Circle K today? Did you know it is a Canadian company, based out of Quebec, called Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc.? The company employs more than 100,000 people around the world and operates in North America, Europe and Asia under the Circle K brand. As Estonia’s largest fuel retailer, it is also a major employer and contributes significantly to the Estonia economy.
As I enter my fourth and final year as Ambassador to this spectacular country, I am proud of our accomplishments, during these past 30 years, but also going back well over a century. I have played tour guide to visiting delegations and to old friends. Walking my guests through the streets of historic Tallinn, either in the bright sun of the summer or under the warm glow of the Christmas market, never fails to bring smiles to their faces. Serving here and working in an embassy building some 300 years older than my own nation has been such a tremendous privilege. Estonians have welcomed me warmly and I am proud to call many of you my friends. Together, we speak with pride and admiration of our nations’ bond and how our partnership will continue to grow and prosper.Kevin Rex
, Ambassador of Canada to Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania