Constitution Day 2018

H.E. the Danish Ambassador to Canada, Niels Boel Abrahamsen

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Canadian and Danish friends,

Thank you for inviting me to be here today. I’m very pleased to be among so many Canadian Danes and Danish Canadians. Denmark is present in Canada in many ways, and the most important way is YOU – the Danes in Canada! I’m very happy to be here, celebrating our constitution together with all of you.

Constitution Day

In 1849 the Danish Constitution was adopted. Since then, June 5th has been a special day for Denmark. The Constitution gave us important civil rights and freedoms that we greatly value. Freedom of assembly. Freedom of association. Freedom of expression. It lays the foundation for our democracy.

These rights and freedoms are of course not only Danish. They also exist here in Canada. These freedoms have become core values of our democracies. These shared values unite Denmark and Canada in close friendship.

The Danish constitution has been revised four times. The revision of 1915 is a cornerstone in Danish democracy because it introduced voting rights for women. The last amendment allowed women to inherit the throne. It smoothed the way for Princess Margrethe to become Crown Princess and eventually Queen of Denmark.

Prior to my arrival in Ottawa, I had the pleasure of thanking the Queen in person for my appointment as Ambassador to Canada. She was pleased that I was going to Canada because of our two countries’ strong connections, our shared commitment to the Arctic and the fact that Canada is Greenland’s neighbour.

As many of you know, the Royal family has visited Canada several times. The Crown Prince Couple paid an official visit in September 2014, accompanied by a big trade delegation. They brought more than 75 Danish companies with them. This visit created the biggest Danish footprint in Canada since the official visit of Her Majesty the Queen and the Prince Consort in 1991, which also brought them to Vancouver. I’m sure it has strengthened the Danish-Canadian friendship even more.

Shared values

An excellent example of Canada and Denmark’s shared values is seen in how we engage with the world. Despite our small size, Denmark plays an important role in world leadership. So does Canada. Our countries value multilateral cooperation. Therefore, we take responsibility.

I personally witnessed this while I was posted as Denmark’s Ambassador in Afghanistan. Denmark and Canada stood side by side there. Just as Canada stood by Denmark during the wars of the 20th century. The combat in Afghanistan is over, but we still share international commitments. We are both engaged in Ukraine, and we show our strong support to our allies in NATO. We provide troops to the Baltic countries. We are countries that others can count on.

Denmark in Canada

As you know, many Danish immigrants came in one of three waves between the 1860’s and the 1950’s. And most of these immigrants arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax. From there, many travelled to Montreal, where the Danish consulate helped them travel further west by train to Alberta and British Columbia.

The Danish immigrants settled as farmers, foresters, cattlemen, shipwrights and entrepreneurs. And today more than 200,000 people with Danish roots live in Canada. There is no place in Canada that hasn’t been shaped by the many Canadians who trace their ancestry back to Denmark. Thank you.

However, the first presence of Danes in Canada goes much further back than those arriving at Pier 21. Around the year 1,000, Danish Vikings reached the shores of eastern Canada and were the first Europeans to set foot on Canadian soil. Columbus arrived in North America nearly 500 years later. Viking Leif Eriksen (Leif den Lykkelige) and his men reached the shores of Canada, which they named ‘Vinland’. Viking settlements from that era have been discovered in Newfoundland at L’Anse-aux-Meadows. I had the pleasure of visiting there myself with my family two years ago.

In 1619, another group of Danes reached Canada. I’m referring to the Danish sea captain and Arctic explorer Jens Munk. He and his crew sailed out to find the Northwest Passage on behalf of King Christian IV. After a slight detour into Frobisher Bay, Munk made it to the mouth of the Churchill River in northern Manitoba. Unfortunately, almost the entire crew perished from scurvy and the harsh Canadian winter, forcing Munk to give up his search and return to Denmark. I look forward to celebrating Jens Munk’s efforts during the 400th anniversary of his expedition next year.

Trade

Our common values and both countries’ high level of trust also provide a solid foundation for doing business. Both Canada and Denmark are among the most developed and competitive countries in the world. We are strong trading nations and we are believers in free trade.

And trade already closely connects our countries in areas such as healthcare, architecture, green-build, agriculture, and sustainable energy and the environment. In my opinion, our countries can learn many things from each other. I see great potential for strengthening the cooperation between our two countries even further.

The incentive for Canada and Denmark to do business has already been strengthened through the free trade agreement, CETA. Denmark took a lead in the negotiations and we were the second EU country to approve the agreement. Because we believe in free trade, AND because we believe in the importance of our relationship with Canada.

The Arctic

Although Denmark may seem far away in terms of kilometers, Denmark and Canada are in fact neighbours. We share a 3,000 km maritime border that runs from the southern part of Greenland, via the Davis Strait and Baffin Bay, all the way up to the Arctic Ocean north of Greenland. Inuit people migrated from Alaska through Canada to Greenland to hunt for muskox and marine mammals. This is one of the reasons Denmark and Canada have common interests in the development of the Arctic.

The increased global interest in the Arctic brings challenges as well as opportunities.

The Arctic is increasingly affected by global climate change and we need to strike a balance between economic growth and environmental sustainability. This balance must ensure that the people who live in the Arctic, in Denmark’s case the people of Greenland, can develop their communities, business sectors and link up to the world economy. And we must protect the environment. Growth and development need to respect the Arctic climate and benefit the Arctic communities. There are many opportunities such as fisheries and tourism as well as mining.

A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the Ilulissat Declaration. The Declaration is a testimony to cooperation and to acting responsibly concerning future development in the Arctic. During the meeting in Ilulissat, Denmark and Canada established a Joint Task Force on boundary issues, including the sovereignty of Hans Island.

Culture

Another example of cooperation between Denmark and Canada is on culture. The Ordrupgaard Museum in Denmark has been very generous to loan part of their magnificent art collection to the National Gallery in Ottawa. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of opening the exhibit.

The exhibition features beautiful French impressionist paintings as well as a number of Danish Golden Age paintings by artists such as Hammershøi and Eckersberg.

I strongly recommend seeing the exhibit if you are in Ottawa this summer. And I encourage you to come to Denmark and enjoy the whole Ordrupgaard collection in its unique and beautiful home just outside Copenhagen.

Closing remarks

Denmark is Canada’s friendly and like-minded neighbour. We are your reliable partner in the North, an ally in NATO and a strong Trans-Atlantic and free-trade proponent in the EU.

Thank you.