G7 ministers sit down in Toronto to a full plate of world troubles

A gathering of G7 foreign and security ministers got underway in Toronto on a slightly informal note with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland inviting her counterparts to her home for Sunday brunch.

G7 leaders summit will be held in Charlevoix, Que., in early June

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, centre, sits alongside Federica Mogherini, left, high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Shirley Ayorkor Botchway, right, Ghana's minister of Foreign Affairsm during a G7 Outreach session with non-G7 women foreign ministers, in Toronto on Sunday. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

A gathering of G7 foreign and security ministers got underway in Toronto on a slightly informal note with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland inviting her counterparts to her home for Sunday brunch.

It was a light, relaxed affair — unlike the heavy agenda the ministers face over the next couple of days in mostly closed-door meetings at the University of Toronto.

Russia and the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine dominated the working lunch later on Sunday.

It was followed by an early afternoon session on Syria, Iraq, Iran and the Palestinian conflict.

There are also discussions taking place to track the evolving situation in North Korea, where the country's leader, Kim Jong-un, startled the world late last week by announcing a suspension in nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

The high-level meeting is taking place without new U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who hasn't yet been confirmed by Congress.

John J. Sullivan, current acting Secretary of State for the United States, sits with, from left, Jean-Yves Le Drian, France's minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs and Maria Angela Holguin, Colombia's minister of Foreign Affairs, during a G7 outreach session. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

He recently held direct talks with the North Koreans.

Groundwork laid ahead of June summit

The ministerial is intended to lay the groundwork for the G7 leaders summit in Charlevoix, Que., in early June.

On Saturday, Canada and Japan signed a bilateral defence agreement which has been in the works for months. It will, according to a statement by Global Affairs Canada, "allow both countries to make efficient use of each other's military equipment during operations and exercises."

The agreement also smoothes the way for closer cooperation in responding to humanitarian crises and disasters and in future peacekeeping initiatives.

Security ministers from each of the seven major Western industrialized nations will join Canada's foreign minister for joint sessions on Monday, where they will talk cyber threats and countering violent extremism.

Finding ways to curb human trafficking, particularly of women, is another major theme.

"Most victims of human trafficking are women and girls," said Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale following a meeting with a roundtable of academics on Friday. "The government of Canada is committed to fighting this abhorrent attack on basic human rights and dignity."

Non-G7 foreign ministers gather

The discussions fit within the Liberal government's international feminist agenda and drive for greater gender equality.

The first working session for Freeland on Sunday involved meeting with a series of non-G7 foreign ministers who are women; they were invited to a special outreach session.

They included representatives of Colombia, Croatia and Ghana, among others. 

Freeland announced Canada will host a much larger gathering of women foreign affairs ministers in September ahead of the annual UN General Assembly session.

An informal dinner among female foreign ministers was held Saturday night, a gathering that Japan's Taro Kono also attended.

"He was the only man there," said Freeland. "All of us women foreign ministers said we are often in meetings where we are the only woman and so Taro got to see a little bit what it was like."