Alexis Huguet Agence France-Presse Athletes from the Canadian delegation during the opening ceremony of the Games of La Francophonie, in Kinshasa, on July 28
The absence of Quebec from the last edition of the Francophonie Games did not go unnoticed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), note Canadian diplomats, who report no security problem during the event.
“No health or safety incidents were reported by Canadian participants. [The Congolese authorities] were able to keep their promises and deliver the Games in a safe environment,” testifies the Canadian mission report obtained by Le Devoir under of the Access to Information Act.
Concerns about the security of the event were, however, the reason given by Quebec for not participating in the sporting and cultural celebration, which was held in the capital Kinshasa from July 28 to August 6 last, except to send a few diplomats there. Canada for its part sent a delegation, albeit small, after hesitation.
In his official assessment, recorded in an email entitled “A remarkable presence from Canada despite everything! », Federal foreign service agent Lysanne Roberge praises the diplomatic benefits of the trip, while criticizing Quebec's false leap.
“Several [athletes and artists from the Canadian delegation] told us that the media releases before the Games as well as the withdrawal of Quebec had a negative impact on their preparations for the various competitions. »
During his speech, Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi even said: “It is in difficult times that we recognize our true friends. » The sentence is fully transcribed in the report sent to the headquarters of Canadian diplomacy, in Ottawa.
In Kinshasa, these comments were interpreted as a thinly veiled criticism of the Quebec position, which caused a lot of noise in the local media during the summer, confirms to Devoir another member of the diplomatic corps present on site who requested anonymity, due to lack of permission to discuss the matter publicly.
The DRC deployed its police officers, its presidential guard and military units to ensure the security of the event. Canada had hired the security company Garda World and assigned liaison officers from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to ensure the security of its delegation.
This did not prevent the public – whose mass presence may have “contributed to the success of the Games”, according to Ottawa – from sometimes mingling with the athletes and artists. This proximity was “without great consequences given the enthusiasm of the crowd”, we can read. The report emphasizes that the Canadian presence “made it possible to strengthen [its] position with other members of the Francophonie”, and that the country, like its delegates, “will have made many friends” thanks to the meeting.
In Quebec, the office of the Minister of International Relations and La Francophonie, Martine Biron, expresses no remorse for having ignored the main aspects of this international Francophone meeting.
“Quebec carried out two technical missions in January 2023 and May 2023. The reports from these missions showed us that the conditions to ensure the safety of athletes and artists were not met. It was a considered and responsible decision in light of the information available to us at that time,” said his press secretary, Catherine Boucher, in a written statement.
She adds that her government sent diplomats, a gesture which would have earned it thanks from the DRC ambassador to Canada.
Moreover, the Ottawa mission report reveals that the budget for the trip, allocated by the Department of Canadian Heritage, was exceeded. The delegation had to seek help from Global Affairs Canada (GAC), another department. AMC clarified at Devoir that it had not provided any financial assistance, but rather a paid service for sending equipment by diplomatic bags to the Canadian delegation.
This is due to organizational problems with the Francophonie Games detailed in a redacted passage from the mission report. Under its Access to Information Act, the government can withhold information “the disclosure of which would reasonably be likely to be prejudicial to the conduct of international affairs,” among other reasons.
Athletes and artists representing Canada, as well as others from the New Brunswick delegation, measured themselves against their equivalents from other member states of the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF). The Canadian delegation included 44 of them, and returned home with four gold medals, six silver and three bronze.