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The term external affairs avoided the question of whether a colony or Dominion—self-governing and hence sovereign in some respects—could, by definition, have foreign affairs.
Implicitly, since the department was responsible for affairs with both Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth countries, all external relations were of a type, even when the head of state was shared with other nations.
The word foreign was deliberately avoided by Commonwealth dominions, such as Canada, since the department was founded while Canada's foreign policy was still controlled by the United Kingdom.
Canada assumed progressively greater control over its foreign relations during and after World War I, and its full autonomy in this field was confirmed by the Statute of Westminster in 1931.
The Minister for International Cooperation, with responsibilities for agencies such as the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), also fell under DFAIT.