NEW YORK, N.Y. - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird delivered a scathing rebuke Monday to the United Nations, pointing to the bloodshed in Syria as evidence of its lack of purpose and focus as he fired yet another round in the Canadian government's ongoing war of words against the UN.
"The crisis in Syria is a test of this organization's ability to achieve results," said Baird, who spoke to a largely empty and seemingly disinterested chamber.
"While the brutal and repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad continues the slaughter of its own people, the United Nations continues to fail to impose binding sanctions that would stem the crimson tide of this bloody assault."
He warned the UN to think of its legacy as the turmoil continues in Syria.
"Until the last syllable of recorded time, the world will remember and history will judge member states that are allowing these atrocities to continue," Baird said.
"Many people of the planet, including many of the citizens whom we represent, cannot understand why this organization — despite the sound and fury of debate in this great assembly — has been unable to take concrete steps."
The UN spends too much time in self-examination, he continued, and needs instead to focus on the problems around the world that demand its attention.
"Our commitment to the United Nations has been tested and is proven," he said.
"Not in spite of our commitment, but because of our commitment to this body, we cannot and will not participate in endless, fruitless inward-looking exercises."
Consequently, the Canadian mission to the UN will now focus its attention on what the United Nations is achieving, not how it arranges its affairs, Baird said. If the UN focuses instead on its true goals, such as prosperity, security and human dignity, internal reform will take care of itself, he added.
"The UN spends too much time on itself. It must now look outward."
Baird was speaking to the General Assembly on Canada's behalf after Prime Minister Stephen Harper travelled to New York last week not to address the UN, but to accept a world statesman award a few blocks away.
Harper, too, chastised the UN, and painted a bleak picture of the risks posed by a nuclear Iran, as he was honoured by the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an inter-faith peace organization founded by a rabbi.
Outside the UN chamber following Baird's remarks, one delegate said the organization was largely shrugging off Canada's relatively recent anti-United Nations stance.
"Multilateralism is not always pretty or easy," said the Sri Lankan official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
"Everyone knows this. Despite the mess, you have to work within the global community, through diplomacy and open dialogue, to solve problems and get results. Canada is seeming short-sighted in this regard."
The first speaker at the General Assembly on Monday morning, Baird's appearance was sparsely attended. The few delegates inside the hall barely lifted their heads from their reading material as he spoke.
He was followed on the podium by an Armenian government official. Later in the day, Baird met with 89-year-old Henry Kissinger, the legendary U.S. statesman who last week praised the Canadian government's approach on Iran.
On Syria, Baird has said that he and Harper have been in touch with their Russian counterparts about getting the UN Security Council involved in ending the violence.
Russia has faced criticism for thwarting efforts to halt the bloodshed in Syria by using its veto at the Security Council to quash resolutions against the Assad regime.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has insisted it's the West standing in the way of concerted international action by failing to implement an earlier agreement on the conflict.
Canada has committed to provide $12 million to help Syrian civilians, many thousands of whom have flocked across Syria's borders to live as refugees in neighbouring countries.
It's estimated that as many as 700,000 could flee Syria by the end of this year.
Baird also took the time Monday to point out to the UN that despite the ongoing turmoil in Syria, Iran remains "the most significant threat" to peace and security around the world.
"A nuclear Iran would embolden an already reckless regime and perpetuate a destabilizing factor for not just an already fragile region but the entire planet," Baird said.
"While Canada prizes engagement and open relations, there can be no open engagement with a regime that dishonours its word, repudiates its commitments, and threatens to perpetuate crimes against humanity."