Canadian CYC Delegate Blog Corner
I am Leah Davidson, one of the Canadian Commonwealth National Youth Delegates, bringing a youth voice to Commonwealth issues and international events. This series of articles will cover people who work on Commonwealth issues and for Commonwealth organizations, with the goal of unpacking Commonwealth values and their relevance to young people.
During my time covering the Commonwealth Youth Games in Trinidad and Tobago, I had the privilege of meeting with His Excellency, Arif Keshani, the High Commissioner of Canada to Trinidad and Tobago. The child of Canadian immigrants, Keshani (BComm, University of Calgary, 1996; LLM [International Law and International Relations], University of Kent, 2013) has worked for Global Affairs Canada for more than two decades, including most recently as Consul General at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo.
When asked about his experience since his appointment to Trinidad and Tobago in 2022, Keshani explained,
Canada and Trinidad and Tobago share many similarities and enjoy a bilateral relationship built on shared values, deep people-to-people connections and significant economic ties. We also share history as Commonwealth nations and shared values and goals including development, democracy and peace.
His office, the Canadian High Commission in Trinidad and Tobago, supports bilateral and trade relations, immigration (i.e., student visas, tourist visas, and citizenship inquiries), and consular services to Canadians (travel and passport support).
Keshani explained that the bilateral relationship covers a wide spectrum of sectors including trade, security cooperation, education, culture, climate and the environment, as well as sports and health. Most recently, the High Commission has worked closely with the Government of Trinidad and Tobago on a number of security initiatives, including through Canada’s Anti-Crime and Capacity Building Programme to combat illegal arms and drug trafficking; and co-hosted a sensitization workshop on women, peace and security.
Although many in Canada have not visited Trinidad and Tobago, a large number equally call it “home.” There are an estimated 15,000 Canadians living in Trinidad and Tobago, and many Trinbagonians have strong Canadian connections having studied or worked in Canada previously.
The presence of Canada is well represented on this island-nation, as indicated by the number of Canadian businesses and banks. Grocery stores carry a wide assortment of Canadian food products and some prominent Canadian companies are household names in Trinidad and Tobago. As shared by Keshani, Trinidad and Tobago is Canada’s largest trading market within CARICOM.
Since Trinidad and Tobago’s independence in 1962, Canada and Trinidad and Tobago’s relations have been very positive and marked with mutual respect. One of the most successful collaborations is that of higher education. Canadian universities are highly attractive and reputable to students and parents in Trinidad and Tobago. “Academics are very important,” said Keshani, who shared that Canadian missionaries were responsible for opening some of the first schools in Trinidad and Tobago.
In recent years we’ve had several university fairs with 30+ [Canadian] universities represented. Trinidad and Tobago also has two schools, which are following the Ontario curriculum and this year I had the pleasure of presenting the Governor General Award for academic excellence to a number of students– Arif Keshani
Since moving to Trinidad and Tobago, Keshani has been surprised at the number of Canadians he has met unexpectedly, explaining that it is often through impromptu conversation that he learns of others with Canadian roots. Having lived and worked in many different countries, he personally enjoys the natural beauty of Trinidad and Tobago, and the warmth of both the weather and the people. Keshani said,
One of my favorite parts of Trinidad and Tobago is how welcoming the people are. People enjoy spending time socializing [called ‘liming’ by locals] and taking the time to have real interactions.
While Keshani’s assignment has only recently begun, it is clear that he is committed to growing the already strong relationship between Canada and Trinidad and Tobago, and supporting a growing diaspora of Canadians in Trinidad. Canadians in Trinidad are a blend of two unique cultures and the High Commissioner will be looking for opportunities to leverage these people-to-people connections and shared values to help advance Canadian priorities.