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Courtesy of Paul Heinbecker

Paul Heinbecker


“Ambassador Heinbecker carries with him a perceptible level of empathy for those in need or without a voice, combined with a sense at both the individual and the international level that anything is possible.”

-Jane Boulden
Canada Research Chair in International Relations, Royal Military College of Canada


Paul Heinbecker stood up for the rules-based international order at a critical time. In 2003, while Ambassador to the UN, Heinbecker attempted to strike a compromise as the Security Council debated military intervention in Iraq. Though the US could not be dissuaded from its war of first resort, Heinbecker provided one of the strongest voices against war and advised Prime Minister Jean Chretien against deploying Canadian forces in Iraq. In his memoirs, Chretien described this decision as “one of the most important moments in our history”, and perhaps the best decision of his political career.

Paul Heinbecker speaking at the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History in 2015. Milan Ilnyckyj.

As the United States pursued its War on Terror, rules and conventions were being stretched and broken. As Ambassador to the United Nations in 2002, Heinbecker challenged U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration’s attempt to free U.S. personnel from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Working through the UN Security Council, the Bush administration proposed a resolution providing immunity to UN soldiers and diplomats from states that had not ratified the ICC statute. Heinbecker rallied other UN members against the initiative, succeeding in requiring the US to seek  immunity on an annual basis. The subsequent American abuses of human rights at Abu Ghraib Prison effectively  destroyed the US argument for a permanent   exemption . Heinbecker’s intervention preserved the integrity of the mandate of the ICC to prosecute major breeches of international criminal law.

Heinbecker’s determined defence of the ICC reflected his long career forging Canada’s human security agenda. As Assistant Deputy Minister for Global and Security Policy, he coordinated a multinational force to Zaire in 1996, to protect Rwandan refugees. In 1997, he negotiated the Kyoto Protocol of the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and in 1999 helped negotiate the end of the Kosovo conflict while G7 Political Director. Earlier, he was chief speechwriter and foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Mulroney.

Heinbecker was born in Kitchener, Ontario in 1941. He studied English and History at Waterloo Lutheran University and joined the Foreign Service in 1965. Heinbecker is the inaugural director of the Centre for Global Relations at Wilfrid Laurier University and a Distinguished Fellow at the independent Centre for International Governance Innovation.

Further Reading:

Heinbecker, Paul. Getting Back in the Game: A Foreign Policy Playbook for Canada. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2011.

— and Bessma Momani, eds. Canada and the Middle East: In Theory and Practice. Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2010.

— and Patricia Goff, eds. Irrelevant or Indispensable?: The United Nations in the Twenty-First Century. Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2005.

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