Liberals fund women's rights abroad as Trudeau to raise abortion politics in New York

Feds fund women's rights

The Liberal government is spending more money on women's rights abroad — an effort to showcase Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's bona fides on gender equality in a country where access to abortion seems to be slipping away.

Trudeau was expected to reaffirm his government's commitment to supporting reproductive freedom later Thursday at a star-studded progressive summit in the heart of Hell's Kitchen on the shores of the Hudson River.

Earlier, though, his international development minister laid the groundwork in Ottawa, announcing a five-year, $195-million investment — plus $43 million every subsequent year — in women's rights advocacy around the world.

"When it comes to women's rights, our government is unapologetically pro-choice," Harjiit Sajjan told a news conference on Parliament Hill.

Trudeau was expected to pick up the baton at Global Citizen NOW, a gathering of change-minded celebrities, world leaders and activists where he was taking part in an afternoon panel on gender rights.

The panel boasted an all-Canadian roster: Jacqueline O'Neill, Canada's first ambassador for women, peace and security, as well as former CTV National News chief anchor Lisa LaFlamme, whose firing last summer became a cause célèbre.

The perils facing abortion rights in the U.S. demonstrate that even the most basic rights must be defended with "constant vigilance," said Kirsten Hillman, Canada's envoy to Washington and the first woman to occupy the post.

"Human rights, women's rights, security of individuals and all kinds of minority rights around the world — these are things that we can't take for granted," Hillman said Thursday outside the United Nations.

"We see in the United States that once rights are attained, you can't take them for granted. You have to continue to make sure that you're building on them and reinforcing them."

Hillman has had a front-row seat to some seismic shifts in access to abortion over the last year, most notably the Supreme Court's decision last June to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established federal abortion rights.

And advocates had feared that a legal stalemate over access to the so-called abortion pill, mifepristone, would end much the same way, before the high court opted late last week to maintain the status quo — for the time being.

The U.S. Department of Justice is fighting a Texas court decision which, if allowed to stand, would effectively rescind the Food and Drug Administration's 23-year-old approval of the drug.

Trudeau began his first full day in the city with a visit to the UN, where he met briefly with Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley to talk about one of their shared passions: advancing sustainable development goals in the Global South.

The two leaders also hosted a meeting of the UN panel they co-chair together: the SDG Advocates, a group of international activists and experts committed to accomplishing a daunting list of ambitious sustainable development goals by 2030.

"Whenever there's a situation of real crisis, the natural human instinct is to fold inwards, hunker down and hope the storm passes by," Trudeau told the meeting as it unfolded live on a UN sound stage.

"Well, this storm will not pass us by unless we actually reach out to each other and work together. And that's where the SDG goals are so unbelievably important."

The gender rights funding will fall under the government's Women's Voice and Leadership program, first launched in 2017. The government says it has worked with about 1,500 organizations through the program so far.

The announcement comes at a time when the Liberals appear to be cutting their overall development spending, which had been boosted to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

This year's federal budget shows spending will be down about 15 per cent in the coming fiscal year.

On Friday, Trudeau will speak to the influential Council on Foreign Relations, making his case for Canada as an attractive trade partner and investment destination — especially after last month's visit by President Joe Biden.

Business leaders and private-sector observers alike are pressing Ottawa to get busy on streamlining the regulatory process for Canada's nascent critical minerals sector as the demand for green energy kickstarts a new 21st-century gold rush.

That is "absolutely a priority," Hillman acknowledged Thursday, adding that Canadian industry currently enjoys a competitive advantage over its U.S. counterpart.

"I know Canadians get a little bit frustrated sometimes with the length of the permitting that is required in in some of these large projects," she said.

"But I can tell you from where I stand in Washington, what I hear from American industry is how much faster we tend to do it than they do. I'm not saying it's good enough. And I'm not saying we don't want to continue to streamline and improve. But we already have a natural advantage there, and we'll continue to improve it."

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