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Panel — Keeping the Skies Safe: Prospects for Global Cooperation

On December 8th, the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy (IPD) hosted a joint webinar titled, “Keeping the Skies Safe: Prospects for Global Cooperation in collaborations with InterVISTAS. The virtual panel was held at 11:00 AM (ET) and can be watched on YouTube.

One year after the Safer Skies Initiative was launched by the Canadian government and following the work achieved at the Safer Skies Forum of December 2020, this webinar sought to reenergize the global discussion around the protection of civilian flight operations in and around conflict zones and how to best achieve progress on the Safer Skies commitments, which include the incorporation of risk management assessments and mitigation protocols at the level of national civil aviation authorities, and the implementation of ICAO conflict zone and airspace management-related Standard and Recommended Practices (SARPs).

To discuss the way forward and identify current challenges and opportunities, we have invited four distinguished and prominent experts who offered their views and insights from a diversity of perspectives. Topics for discussion included: (1) current challenges to progress on the Safer Skies Initiative; (2) current state of affairs at the level of ICAO; (3) challenges and opportunities to progress on the Safer Skies commitments; (4) the value of government-industry collaboration moving forward; (5) current and emerging threats to civil aircraft operations, as well as (6) best practices in the areas of risk assessment and mitigation protocols.

Date: December 8, 2021

Time: 11:00 AM ET


John Velho
Canada Lead on Safer Skies Initiative, and Director, Passenger Protect Program and Target Operations, Transport Canada

John Velho was appointed to the position of Director, Passenger Protect Program and Target Operations, Aviation Security, effective October 4, 2021.

Mr. Velho has 22 years of experience in the Government of Canada, and has held many positions in his 30 years with TC. He has occupied positions in different areas of the department such as in Programs, Corporate Finance, Rail, Marine, Multimodal Training and Aviation. Mr. Velho started his journey as a financial officer, before going on to hold many positions with increasing responsibilities, including Chief International Operations, where is was responsible for oversight activities in foreign states.

He has also worked with international organizations on different technical cooperation files, and represented the Government of Canada in different expert panels such as the International Civil Aviation Organization and the United Nations.

Mr. Velho has recently established a Conflict Zone Information Office (CZIO) as part of the Prime Minister’s Safer Skies commitment following the tragic downing of flight PS752, while standing up new programs within Aviation Security.

Nico Voorbach
Director ICAO Affairs, CANSO

Nico Voorbach started his career as a police officer in the Netherlands. In 1987, he became a Police pilot with the Dutch National Police. In 1992, he joined KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, where he was promoted Captain in 1993. At KLM, he flew the several aircraft types, ending his flying career on the Boeing 777 in 2016.

Nico has been involved from 1999 in the IFALPA Security Committee as Vice Chairman and Chairman, until 2010. Nico has been the Pilots’ representative for security matters in Europe and worldwide, with representation to the European Parliament and Commission, EUROCONTROL, IATA, ACI, NATO, and the ICAO AVSECP

In February 2011, he was elected as President of the European Cockpit Association (ECA), representing more than 38.000 pilots in Europe. Among others, during this time he represented the European pilots view on the tragic MH17 accident with the Dutch Investigation Board and the European Commission and European States. 

Since 2016 Nico is the Director ICAO Affairs at CANSO. CANSO Members support almost 90 percent of world air traffic. Nico is be responsible for the management of the CANSO Montreal office and for the successful leadership and oversight of CANSO’s relations with ICAO. Nico is the CANSO Observer to the ICAO Council, the Air Navigation Commission and several ICAO Panels. He coordinates all inputs from CANSO and its Members to ICAO and its technical panels and working groups.

Matthew Vaughan
Director Aviation Security & Cyber, International Air Transport Association (IATA)

Matthew Vaughan is the Director, Aviation Security & Cyber (ACyS) for International Air Transport Association  (IATA), based in Montreal, Canada. Matthew’s responsibilities include leading IATA’s international efforts on  aviation security and cyber, whilst serving as the Secretary for Security Advisory Council (SAC), reporting into  the IATA Board of Governors. Previously, Matthew worked for Etihad Airways, the National air carrier of the  United Arab Emirates for over eight years of which he spent the last five years as the Head of Aviation Security.  

Matthew has over 20 years security management experience drawing from law enforcement, Federal  Government and private sector security roles. He has spent a large portion of his career thus far in the Middle  East, both vocationally and academically developing interests in the utility of integrated risk models and  continuity of civil aviation. 

Drawing directly from his experiences with Etihad Airways, Matthew’s instinct towards supporting executive level risk decision-making continues to feature in view of an ever-evolving threat to civil aviation. In support of  this, Matthew’s role with IATA is strategically premised on the promotion of baseline compliance to Aviation  Security standards and recommended practices. Moreover, leveraging an all-hazards, risk-based approach  through strategic threat analysis and business continuity planning in a high threat, high reliability industry. 

Previously, Matthew worked as a New South Wales Police Force Constable (Sydney, Australia) which culminated  into a national security management role with the Australian Government (Canberra, Australia). The balance of  his government security career led towards to a national project management role with DHL Express and a  consultancy role with GHD Pty Ltd based in both Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. 

Matthew has a Master’s Degree in Science, majoring in Risk Management and Security. In addition, Matthew  holds a Bachelor Degree in Policing and Justice and a Postgraduate Diploma in Criminal Intelligence, as well  a number of aviation management and leadership qualifications.

Hany Bakr
SVP Aviation & Maritime Security, MedAire International  An International SOS Company

Hany is an aviation professional that brings over 20 years of experience in the aviation industry, progressively holding executive leadership positions in various airlines, ICAO, and MedAire, an International SOS company. Hany led and navigated various aviation businesses in over 120 countries through some of the most dynamic environments in the world having worked in commercial, Heads of States, budget, charter, freighters, and business aviation operators. He held executive positions in airline operations, safety, quality, security, risk management and at the UN specialised agency ICAO.

In his capacity as Senior Vice President Aviation & Maritime Security with MedAire International, Hany is responsible for ensuring MedAire International’s aviation and maritime security risk management initiatives and support to the aviation industry remains at a cutting edge from strategic oversight to a forward-leaning innovation framework.

Before joining MedAire, Hany was most recently part of the ICAO Middle East team as Regional Officer Aviation Security and Facilitation. Prior to this, Hany was the Security Director Aviation Security & Maritime for International SOS, and was part of the executive leadership team of Qatar Airways as acting VP Group Security where he was accountable for all aspects of aviation and corporate security worldwide, ensuring the company’s 50,000 employees and operation in over 100 countries were operating safely through strategic and operational oversight and in compliance with national and international regulations.

Hany was the Chairman of the oneworld Alliance Security Group, Chairman of the Arab Air Carriers’ Organisation (AACO) Security Intelligence TaskForce, Chairman of the Qatar Airways Security Risks & Threats & Security Action Groups and a member of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Security Executive Group representing 290 airlines ensuring capacity building, information sharing, global lobbying with local and international entities and authorities is achieved for the best interest of member airlines.


Marcelo Garcia
Senior Director, InterVISTAS Consulting

Currently Senior Director at InterVISTAS Consulting Inc., Marcelo has broad experience in policy and global advocacy matters in regulated industries. On the aviation front, he has worked with Canada’s Department of Transport – based in Ottawa, Canada – and with Qatar Airways’ aeropolitical and regulatory affairs – based in Doha, Qatar. He has advised airlines and industry associations on a wide array of legal and regulatory issues such as regional airspace disputes, international public air law, state subsidies, passenger rights, airline partnership agreements and air service agreements. He has also advised the Canadian government on airline joint ventures and competition law. Marcelo’s integrated approach to global advocacy has led him to coordinate and deploy market access efforts in Australia, India, Japan, Canada, Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, South Africa, Kenya and Namibia, among others. He has also designed governance frameworks for airline programs such as new stations, airport incentives, and the management of foreign air operator permits. He holds a Master of Laws from McGill’s Institute of Air and Space Law in Montreal. He has also earned common law and civil law degrees from McGill University.


Panel 4: Pathways to Manage Non-Proliferation in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:45 PM ET)

The Western powers have failed to effectively manage the increasing threat of proliferation in the Middle East. While the international community is concerned with Iran’s nuclear program, Saudi Arabia has moved forward with developing its own nuclear program, and independent studies show that Israel has longed possessed dozens of nuclear warheads. The former is a member of the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), while the latter has refused to sign the international agreement. 

On Middle East policy, the Biden campaign had staunchly criticized the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal and it has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier since assuming office in January 2021. However, serious obstacles remain for responsible actors in expanding non-proliferation efforts toward a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. 

This panel will discuss how Western powers and multilateral institutions, such as the IAEA, can play a more effective role in managing non-proliferation efforts in the Middle East.  


Peggy Mason: Canada’s former Ambassador to the UN for Disarmament

Mark Fitzpatrick: Associate Fellow & Former Executive Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)

Ali Vaez: Iran Project Director, International Crisis Group

Negar Mortazavi: Journalist and Political Analyst, Host of Iran Podcast

David Albright: Founder and President of the Institute for Science and International Security


Closing (5:45 PM – 6:00 PM ET)

Panel 3: Trade and Business Diplomacy in the Middle East (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

What is the current economic landscape in the Middle East? While global foreign direct investment is expected to fall drastically in the post-COVID era, the World Bank reported a 5% contraction in the economic output of the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries in 2020 due to the pandemic. While oil prices are expected to rebound with normalization in demand, political instability, regional and geopolitical tensions, domestic corruption, and a volatile regulatory and legal environment all threaten economic recovery in the Middle East. What is the prospect for economic growth and development in the region post-pandemic, and how could MENA nations promote sustainable growth and regional trade moving forward?

At the same time, Middle Eastern diaspora communities have become financially successful and can help promote trade between North America and the region. In this respect, the diaspora can become vital intermediaries for advancing U.S. and Canada’s business interests abroad. Promoting business diplomacy can both benefit the MENA region and be an effective and positive way to advance engagement and achieve foreign policy goals of the North Atlantic.

This panel will investigate the trade and investment opportunities in the Middle East, discuss how facilitating economic engagement with the region can benefit Canadian and American national interests, and explore relevant policy prescriptions.


Hon. Sergio Marchi: Canada’s Former Minister of International Trade

Scott Jolliffe: Chairperson, Canada Arab Business Council

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj: Founder and Publisher of Bourse & Bazaar

Nizar Ghanem: Director of Research and Co-founder at Triangle

Nicki Siamaki: Researcher at Control Risks

Panel 2: Arms Race and Terrorism in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

The Middle East continues to grapple with violence and instability, particularly in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Fueled by government incompetence and foreign interventions, terrorist insurgencies have imposed severe humanitarian and economic costs on the region. Meanwhile, regional actors have engaged in an unprecedented pursuit of arms accumulation. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have imported billions of both Western and Russian-made weapons and funded militant groups across the region, intending to contain their regional adversaries, particularly Iran. Tehran has also provided sophisticated weaponry to various militia groups across the region to strengthen its geopolitical position against Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Israel. 

On the other hand, with international terrorist networks and intense regional rivalry in the Middle East, it is impractical to discuss peace and security without addressing terrorism and the arms race in the region. This panel will primarily discuss the implications of the ongoing arms race in the region and the role of Western powers and multilateral organizations in facilitating trust-building security arrangements among regional stakeholders to limit the proliferation of arms across the Middle East.



Luciano Zaccara: Assistant Professor, Qatar University

Dania Thafer: Executive Director, Gulf International Forum

Kayhan Barzegar: Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Science and Research Branch of Azad University

Barbara Slavin: Director of Iran Initiative, Atlantic Council

Sanam Shantyaei: Senior Journalist at France24 & host of Middle East Matters

Panel 1: Future of Diplomacy and Engagement in the Middle East (10:30 AM-11:45 AM ET)

The emerging regional order in West Asia will have wide-ranging implications for global security. The Biden administration has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier, an initiative staunchly opposed by Israel, while also taking a harder line on Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen. Meanwhile, key regional actors, including Qatar, Iraq, and Oman, have engaged in backchannel efforts to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table. From a broader geopolitical perspective, with the need to secure its energy imports, China is also expected to increase its footprint in the region and influence the mentioned challenges. 

In this evolving landscape, Western powers will be compelled to redefine their strategic priorities and adjust their policies with the new realities in the region. In this panel, we will discuss how the West, including the United States and its allies, can utilize multilateral diplomacy with its adversaries to prevent military escalation in the region. Most importantly, the panel will discuss if a multilateral security dialogue in the Persian Gulf region, proposed by some regional actors, can help reduce tensions among regional foes and produce sustainable peace and development for the region. 


Abdullah Baabood: Academic Researcher and Former Director of the Centre for Gulf Studies, Qatar University

Trita Parsi: Executive Vice-President, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Ebtesam Al-Ketbi: President, Emirates Policy Centre​

Jon Allen: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Israel

Elizabeth Hagedorn: Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor

Panel 4: Humanitarian Diplomacy: An Underused Foreign Policy Tool in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:30 PM ET)

Military interventions, political and economic instabilities, and civil unrest in the Middle East have led to a global refugee crisis with an increasing wave of refugees and asylum seekers to Europe and Canada. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has, in myriad ways, exacerbated and contributed to the ongoing security threats and destabilization of the region.

While these challenges pose serious risks to Canadian security, Ottawa will also have the opportunity to limit such risks and prevent a spillover effect vis-à-vis effective humanitarian initiatives in the region. In this panel, we will primarily investigate Canada’s Middle East Strategy’s degree of success in providing humanitarian aid to the region. Secondly, the panel will discuss what programs and initiatives Canada can introduce to further build on the renewed strategy. and more specifically, how Canada can utilize its policy instruments to more effectively deal with the increasing influx of refugees from the Middle East. 



Erica Di Ruggiero: Director of Centre for Global Health, University of Toronto

Reyhana Patel: Head of Communications & Government Relations, Islamic Relief Canada

Amir Barmaki: Former Head of UN OCHA in Iran

Catherine Gribbin: Senior Legal Advisor for International and Humanitarian Law, Canadian Red Cross

Panel 3: A Review of Canada’s Middle East Engagement and Defense Strategy (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

In 2016, Canada launched an ambitious five-year “Middle East Engagement Strategy” (2016-2021), committing to investing CA$3.5 billion over five years to help establish the necessary conditions for security and stability, alleviate human suffering and enable stabilization programs in the region. In the latest development, during the meeting of the Global Coalition against ISIS, Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau announced more than $43.6 million in Peace and Stabilization Operations Program funding for 11 projects in Syria and Iraq.

With Canada’s Middle East Engagement Strategy expiring this year, it is time to examine and evaluate this massive investment in the Middle East region in the past five years. More importantly, the panel will discuss a principled and strategic roadmap for the future of Canada’s short-term and long-term engagement in the Middle East.


Ferry de Kerckhove: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Egypt

Dennis Horak: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Chris Kilford: Former Canadian Defence Attaché in Turkey, member of the national board of the Canadian International Council (CIC)

David Dewitt: University Professor Emeritus, York University

Panel 2: The Great Power Competition in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

While the United States continues to pull back from certain regional conflicts, reflected by the Biden administration’s decision to halt American backing for Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen and the expected withdrawal from Afghanistan, US troops continue to be stationed across the region. Meanwhile, Russia and China have significantly maintained and even expanded their regional activities. On one hand, the Kremlin has maintained its military presence in Syria, and on the other hand, China has signed an unprecedented 25-year strategic agreement with Iran.

As the global power structure continues to shift, it is essential to analyze the future of the US regional presence under the Biden administration, explore the emerging global rivalry with Russia and China, and at last, investigate the implications of such competition for peace and security in the Middle East.


Dmitri Trenin: Director of Carnegie Moscow Center

Joost R. Hiltermann: Director of MENA Programme, International Crisis Group

Roxane Farmanfarmaian: Affiliated Lecturer in International Relations of the Middle East and North Africa, University of Cambridge

Andrew A. Michta: Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at Marshall Center

Kelley Vlahos: Senior Advisor, Quincy Institute

Panel 1: A New Middle East Security Architecture in the Making (10:30 AM -11:45 AM ET)

The security architecture of the Middle East has undergone rapid transformations in an exceptionally short period. Notable developments include the United States gradual withdrawal from the region, rapprochement between Israel and some GCC states through the Abraham Accords and the rise of Chinese and Russian regional engagement.

With these new trends in the Middle East, it is timely to investigate the security implications of the Biden administration’s Middle East policy. In this respect, we will discuss the Biden team’s new approach vis-à-vis Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The panel will also discuss the role of other major powers, including China and Russia in shaping this new security environment in the region, and how the Biden administration will respond to these powers’ increasing regional presence.



Sanam Vakil: Deputy Director of MENA Programme at Chatham House

Denise Natali: Acting Director, Institute for National Strategic Studies & Director of the Center for Strategic Research, National Defense University

Hassan Ahmadian: Professor of the Middle East and North Africa Studies, University of Tehran

Abdulaziz Sagar: Chairman, Gulf Research Center

Andrew Parasiliti: President, Al-Monitor