Although formal relations between Croatia and Canada began in the last decade of the 20th century, the first contacts began almost five centuries ago. On his third voyage, Jacques Cartier (1541-1542), the first explorer of Canada had two Croats on his crew. Samuel de Champlain, famous explorer and founder of Quebec City, enlisted a Croatian miner to help him with the early reconnaissance of Canadian geography and geology research (1604-1606). By invitation of the French government, Croatian soldiers served in Croatian units of the Austrian military sent to help defend New France (1758-59). In the 19th century, Croatians were involved in the earliest salmon fisheries of British Columbia, the Caribou Gold Rush of the 1860's, and the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1890’s. During the main period of migration, which spans most of the 20th century, numerous Croatians settled in the vast expanse of Canada. Most settled in Ontario, followed by areas in and around Vancouver and Montreal, with smaller groups settling in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
On January 15, 1992, Canada was among the first countries to recognize the Republic of Croatia.
Bilateral relations officially began on April 14, 1993 when Croatia and Canada established diplomatic relations. On February 15, 1994, Croatia opened the Embassy in Canada, and in the autumn of that same year, Canada opened its Embassy in Croatia. Later on November 16, 1994, Croatia opened the Croatian Consulate General in Mississauga/Toronto.
The years 1994 and 1995 set the stage for the beginning of the systematic development of Croatian-Canadian bilateral relations. During that time, Canada participated with military contingents in Croatia with UN peacekeeping mission (UNPROFOR). The Canadian approach with regards to Croatia was passive, as Canada, as a participant of the UN mission, tried to retain a so-called neutral position. Nevertheless, during that period, Croatia established an institutional framework with Canada and started negotiations on all relevant agreements in matters of bilateral relations.
After Croatia liberated occupied territories in 1995, Canada insisted on the return of refugees to Croatia, cooperation with ICTY as well as the strengthening of regional cooperation. Immediately after the founding of ICTY in 1996, Canada introduced an additional visa requirement, the form D-20 (later the IMM5559 form) for all Croatian male citizens between the ages of 18 and 65. The form requested detailed information regarding the person’s military role or similar services during the aggression against Croatia. That strict visa regime discouraged communication between the two countries. During the post-war decade, only a few high-level visits were exchanged on a working level. Additionally, the Croatian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Tonino Picula paid a visit to Canada in 2001, however the official visit of the Speaker of the Croatian Parliament, Mr. Zlatko Tomčić, was cancelled in 2003 due to the disputed additional visa form requirement.
An intense political dialogue started in 2006 with the first ever high-level official Canadian to visit Croatia, realised by the Speaker of the Senate, The Honourable Noël Kinsella together with an accompanying delegation. Subsequent to that visit, the Speaker of the Senate, Honourable Noël Kinsella and the Speaker of the House of Commons, The Honourable Peter Milliken invited the Croatian Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration as the only guest speaker at the opening of the 52nd Annual Session of the NATO PA in Québec City, in November 2006. During the course of 2007, 2008, and 2009 and at the beginning of 2010, new dynamics in the bilateral relations have emerged and numerous initiatives have been started towards the development of relations in the political, economic and cultural plan.
Cooperation in the multilateral domain has generally intensified and has resulted in mutual support of positions and candidature for membership in the bodies and commissions of international organizations.
Both the Canadian Government and the Canadian Parliament have been strong advocates of Croatia's NATO membership and in providing a great support in adopting «emergency» procedures in the ratification process for the Protocol on the NATO Enlargement on Croatia.
The only disputable item in Croatian-Canadian relations for a decade had been the additional visa requirement for Croatian citizens, the form IMM5559 (earlier the D-20 form). After numerous discussions and interventions by the Croatian government and the Croatian Embassy in Ottawa, as well as the Croatian Community in Canada for abolishing the additional visa form, the Canadian Government accepted the possibility of opening a dialogue on this issue and sent their first expert Immigration team to Croatia in the spring of 2007; finally in February 2008, the Minister of Immigration, Ms. Diane Finley made a decision regarding the abolishment of the additional military visa requirement.
Following the repeated victory of the Conservative Government in Parliamentary Elections, in October 2008, the Honourable Jason Kenney was appointed Minister of Immigration, and subsequent to his official visit to Croatia, launched an official procedure on examining Croatia’s readiness for a visa-free regime. Having performed a thorough screening of our democratic as well as legal and statistical performance, on March 29, 2009, the Canadian Government made a historic decision to abolish visas for Croatian nationals. The Croatian Community in Canada had collected many thousands of signatures to support this milestone decision. The Honourable Minister Jason Kenney, together with the Croatian Ambassador to Canada, HE Vesela Mrđen Korać made the announcement to Croatian communities in major centres across Canada.
This new level of political framework was enforced by the first ever state visit of the Governor General of Canada HE Michaëlle Jean to Croatia in October 2009. In addition to the significant message the visit itself conveyed, during which time she visited Zagreb, Split, Dubrovnik and Vukovar, Governor General Jean personally commented on Croatian-Canadian friendship and Croatia's success on the international scene, particularly with respect to cooperation with the ICTY.
In December 2009, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Jandroković and Minister Kenney, together with the Croatian community in Toronto, embarked on a new era in Croatian-Canadian relations. During his official visit, MFA Jandroković and MFA Cannon initialled negotiations on the Youth Mobility Agreement, the strengthening of the trade framework and committed to a political dialogue in order to develop and maintain a sustainable long-lasting partnership.
Subsequently, Minister Lynne Yelich (Croatian decent) represented Canada at the Inauguration ceremony for Croatia’s new President, dr. Josipović. While in Croatia, she held bilateral meetings with MFA Jandroković, Minister of Economy Popijač and other relevant business associations.
In conjunction with changes to the overall framework, the Canadian media has rapidly changed its perception of Croatia in a positive manner. Instead of being portrayed as a country which had recently emerged from a war, Croatia is now generally presented as a modern European country and as an attractive, safe tourist destination in the Mediterranean.
Bilateral VIP visit review
- June 1994 –– Mr. Mate Granić, the Croatian Minister of Foreign Affairs visited Canada
- February 1997 – Vice-president of the Croatian Government and Minister for Reconstruction and Development Jure Radić, working visit to Canada;
- July 1997 – Vice-president of the Croatian Government and Minister for Science and Technology, working visit Canada;
- March 1998 – Croatian Agriculture and Forestry Minister Zlatko Dominiković, working visit to Canada;
- June 1998 – Canadian Health Minister Allan Rock visited Croatia;
- August 1998 – Minister of Canadian Heritage Sheila Copps visited Croatia
- October 1998 – Croatian Minister of the Interior Ivan Penić visited Canada (purchase of firefighting aircrafts);
- November 1998 – President of the Supreme Court of Canada A. Lamer visited Croatia;
- May 2001 – Croatian Minister of Foreign Affairs Tonino Picula visited Canada;
- November 2004 – Croatian Minister for European Integration Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, working visit to Canada, host Canadian Deputy Foreign Minister Harder;
- February 2005 – Canadian Senator Frank Mahovlich was present at the inauguration of the Croatian President Stjepan Mesić as a special envoy of the Prime Minister;
- April 2005 – Croatian State Secretary MFA Gordan Bakota visited Canada. Meeting with Canadian Deputy Foreign Minister Peter Harder
- February 2006 – Mayor of Zagreb Milan Bandić visited Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal;
- August 2006 - first official visit of the Speaker of the Senate of Canada Noël A. Kinsella with the delegation to Croatia;
- October , 2006 - Croatian Defence Minister Berislav Rončević payed the official visit to Canada;
- November, 2006 - Croatian MFA and European Integration Grabar-Kitarović payed official visit to Canada;
- February 2007- Working visit of Croatian Minister for Agriculture Mr. P. Čobanković;
- July 2007- N.Kinsella, Speaker of the Senate on behalf of Canadian Government and Parliament participated in Croatia Summit;
- April 2008- P.Milliken, Speaker of the House in official visit to Croatia;
- April 2008-Rick Hillier, Chief of Defence Staff General in the first visit to Croatia;
- May 2008- M. Bernier, first Canadian MFA in the official visit to Croatia;
- July 2008- Jason Kenney, State Secretary for multiculturalism representing Canada in Croatia Summit (later to become Minister of Immigration);
- January 2009-Peter MacKay, first Minister of Defence in the official visit to Croatia;
- June 2009- Luka Bebić, President of Croatian Parliament in the official visit to Canada;
- July 2009-Gerald Keddy, Parliamentary Secretary for International Trade representing Canada in Croatia Summit;
- October 2009, HE M. Jean, first state visit to Croatia;
- December 20009, Gordan jandroković, MFA in the official visit to Canada;
- February 2010, Lynne Yelich, Minister for Economic Diversification for Western Canada and Daniel Petit, Parliamentary Secretary for Justice participated in the Inauguration of the President Josipović;
- May 2010 - first, historic visit of the Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper to the Republic of Croatia. Prime Minister Harper met with the Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, President of the Republic of Croatia prof. Dr. Sc. Ivo Josipović, and Archbishop of Zagreb, His Eminence, Cardinal Josip Bozanić
- July 2010 - Minister of Labor Lisa Raitt participated as the representative of the Government of Canada at the Croatia Summit in Dubrovnik
- July 2010 - Minister of State for Economic Diversification for Western Canada Lynne Yelich and the Croatian MFA Gordan Jandrokovć opened together II Croatian World Games in Zadar
Croatian participation in multilateral meetings in Canada: