As interconnections between health, ideology and politics become increasingly acknowledged, gaps in the literature also become visible in terms of analytic frameworks to engage these issues and empirical studies to understand the complexities. 'Critical public-health ethics' provides such an analytic lens. This article presents the results of a critical public-health ethics analysis of the government of Canada's international response to HIV. This qualitative study involved in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 23 experts on Canada's international response over time. Descriptive, thematic and theoretical analyses revealed an underlying dilemma between Canada's philanthropic desire to 'do the right thing' for the broader public good and Canada's commitment to its own economic growth and other forms of self-interest. Related to this tension were four conspicuous areas of silence in the data: (1) The relative absence of moral vocabulary for discussing Canada's duty to respond to the global HIV pandemic. (2) Scant reference to solutions based on poverty reduction. (3) Little awareness about the dominance of neoliberal economic rationality and its impact on HIV. (4) Limited understanding of Canada's function within the international economic order in terms of its role in poverty creation. Our study has implications for Canada and other rich nations through its empirical contribution to the chorus of calls challenging the legitimised, institutionalised and normative practice of considering the economic growth of wealthy countries as the primary objective of global economic policy.