Canada pushes back decision on UN peace mission
Federal government is considering suggestion Canada create a specialized military unit whose goal is the de-militarization of child soldiers.
|Report an Error|
Share via Email
ST. JOHN’S, NL—Two years after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “Canada is back” on the world stage, the federal Liberal government is preparing to host a major international peacekeeping conference but will not announce where it will deploy Canadian assets, the Star has learned.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said in an exclusive interview that the government has not yet decided on a mission, and won’t before the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial forum in Vancouver on Nov. 14 and 15.
The summit was envisioned to seek pledges of troops for UN peace operations, but Sajjan said the Canadian government took lessons from a similar summit last year in London, and does not want the Vancouver conference to be just about “announcements.”
Some 500 delegates from 70 countries are expected to attend the event, according to the defence department.
Sajjan suggested he would not be drawn into making pledges. “One of the things we need to get away from and what I’ve seen in the past is nations come in and say this is what we’ll offer, that doesn’t actually provide the impact.”
Another senior government source said that retired senator and lieutenant-general Roméo Dallaire has proposed to Trudeau that the government use Canadian military assets and expertise to form a specialized standalone military unit whose goal is the de-militarization of child soldiers — that can be mobile, deployed anywhere to UN peacekeeping missions, as needed.
The source said that idea is under serious consideration.
“What we in Canada want to do is not just be able to say is ‘hey, this is the mission we’re going into,’” said Sajjan, speaking at a cabinet retreat in Newfoundland. Sajjan said more important is the question of “how can we in Canada contribute to making the UN even better. That’s what we want to do.” He said the government wants to aim its efforts at addressing the root causes of conflict in global hotspots.
Still, that means the government’s promise to recommit Canadian Forces to UN peace operations, after a decade where the previous Conservative government refused multiple UN peacekeeping requests for Africa, remains in limbo.
The Trudeau government had pledged upwards of 600 soldiers and 150 police officers for a UN peace mission that it said would likely be deployed in Africa.
The Star has previously reported the options prepared for cabinet last year suggested a deployment at the upper range of those numbers would have the greatest impact and offer the best chance of success.
At the time the French government, under president Francois Hollande, was pressing hard for Canada to send its soldiers into Mali. However, another senior government official told the Star Tuesday that changed with the change in government in France, and Emmanuel Macron at the head.
Sajjan denied the government was trying to delay the decision or getting cold feet, simply that it rejects “an artificial deadline.”
“How many years have some of the conflicts been going on, right?”
Sajjan said he wants any Canadian mission or missions to make a long-term difference using Canadian expertise on reducing “violence against women and how we’re going to reduce the child soldiers that are being recruited.”
“This is not about cold feet, this is really about having a tangible impact.”
Sajjan said the Trudeau government took a similar approach to Canadian participation in Operation Impact, part of the global coalition against Daesh in Syria and Iraq — a mission he said has been adjusted as needed — and in Operation Reassurance, the NATO operations in Latvia.
Sajjan, separately, pointed to “great work” done by Dallaire in the area of child soldiers, adding Canada has lots of experience with “bringing in gender based analysis into missions” and with capacity-building. He said the question is “How do we incorporate that in the United Nations?”
“Progress has been made,” said Sajjan. “We look forward to this mission but we’re going to have an impact when we do make it (the decision).”