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Member Profile March 2016


The Canadian Red Cross - profile

The Canadian Red Cross in Syria, March 2016.

This month CCIC met with Susan Johnson, Deputy Secretary General and Senior Vice President at Canadian Red Cross to discuss the Syrian conflict, the current Canadian Red Cross Faces of Humanity Campaign, the SDGs and the World Humanitarian Summit and much more…

CCIC - The Syrian conflict is now in its fifth year and the world is experiencing one of the greatest refugee crises in modern history. How is the Canadian Red Cross responding, and what more is needed?

Susan Johnson - Red Cross colleagues recently returned from Syria and neighboring countries where millions of people are still struggling to survive and find safety for their families. They witnessed first-hand people’s terrible desperation as they travelled through teeming refugee camps, conflict zones and destroyed neighbourhoods. Sadly, there is no end in sight for this crisis, and the need is enormous.

Since the start of the conflict, aid workers with the Red Cross and its sister societies, like the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, have been on the ground risking their own lives to help people in besieged communities, and along refugees’ treacherous journeys to Europe, Canada and elsewhere. The need for shelter, medical care, food and other support is immense and ongoing. But humanitarian aid is only a temporary solution.  Quite simply, this situation must end. Enough is enough. We must put the needs of suffering people first, so political answers can follow.

In addition to ongoing support being provided in Syria and neighbouring countries, the Red Cross has been actively providing life-saving assistance to Syrian refugees arriving here in Canada. Since early December, Red Cross staff and volunteers, working alongside all levels of government, have helped provide a warm welcome to individuals and families by offering comfort, hope and a sense of security.


CCIC - Can you tell us about the current Canadian Red Cross Faces of Humanity Campaign?

Susan Johnson - Each year, more than 200 million people are impacted by disasters and emergencies around the world, and Canadian humanitarians regularly help the most vulnerable people caught in these crises. The Faces of Humanity campaign is highlighting the lifesaving assistance offered by Canadian doctors, nurses, technicians, administrators and other professionals.  At numerous events across the country, Canadian Red Cross aid workers are sharing their personal stories about fighting Ebola in West Africa, responding to the devastating earthquake in Nepal, or supporting refugees fleeing war in Syria. The campaign, supported by the government of Canada, aims to engage and inform Canadians about a range of humanitarian issues.


CCIC - Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have the concept of universality at its core. Given the Canadian Red Cross' longstanding national and international work, what are the opportunities and challenges of realising the universal nature of the SDGs?

Susan Johnson - Canadian Red Cross volunteers respond to disasters every day of the year. For example, they offer emergency assistance to people in Canada who lose their homes to fire, and on large scale, they help communities devastated by tornados, floods, earthquakes and health emergencies. We know there are many risks that impact families in Canada and around the world. We know there is a lot to be done, at all levels, to mitigate these risks.  From this perspective, I would say the SDGs offer a significant opportunity for Canada to work across all government departments and with civil society groups to make smart investments in community resilience and preparedness for disasters, as well as in other sectors, such as water and sanitation, and community health.


CCIC - In May 2016, the world will come together in Istanbul for the first ever World Humanitarian Summit. In your opinion what is needed before and during the Summit to ensure its success?

Susan Johnson - The WHS process has been remarkable for its broad engagement of people from governments, the UN system, the Red Cross Movement and many aspects of civil society.  It is no surprise the final reports, which frame the WHS event, capture a wide range of issues.  A few points stand out for the Red Cross. We are pleased to see the call for respect of international humanitarian law since much of the misery experienced by people caught in conflict arises from deliberate attacks on civilians and obstruction of humanitarian assistance. As well, we appreciate increased recognition that local organizations should be supported and strengthened in a response, not replaced by international aid organizations. 

There are, on the other hand, some areas of concern for the Red Cross.  We hope Summit governments will clarify and confirm that they do understand key distinctions between armed conflict and natural disasters and the need to support neutral, independent, impartial humanitarian action, particularly in conflict settings.  We have also noted the final report is very U.N.-centric, despite the range of voices engaged in the lead-up to the Summit. We hope governments at the Summit will confirm that while they appreciate the considerable capacity of the U.N. system, they also recognize its limits, and the valuable diversity of today’s humanitarian organizations.


CCIC - The Canadian Red Cross has been an active member of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC) for many years. Why is CCIC membership and engagement important to your organization? 

Susan Johnson - At the Red Cross, we recognize and appreciate that CCIC is consistently able to gather research and share information and analysis on aid trends.  Based on consultations with its members, CCIC is also able to represent common concerns to the government of Canada on issues that impact many of us, for instance, on contribution agreement contractual questions.



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