A Canadian peacekeeper watches a group of Rwandan refugees in Kigali, Rwanda, in this August 1994 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

A Canadian peacekeeper watches a group of Rwandan refugees in Kigali, Rwanda, in this August 1994 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

25 years after Rwanda, where is Canada on peacekeeping?

Today, Canada has around 40 peacekeepers in the field

When now-retired major-general Guy Tousignant handed over command of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Rwanda 1995, Canada had been involved in virtually every UN mission over the previous four-plus decades.

But after the scandal of Somalia, in which Canadian soldiers tortured and killed a teenage boy, the frustrations and failures of the UN’s efforts in Bosnia and Croatia, and the horrors of Rwanda, Canada started to withdraw from peacekeeping.

Today, Canada has around 40 peacekeepers in the field. That’s a fraction of the 1,200 Canadian blue helmets and blue berets deployed when Tousignant left Rwanda.

That number is also about one-third of what it was when the federal Liberals came to power five years ago — despite repeated promises from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government for Canada to do more.

That the decline has continued is frustrating for some who worked with the Liberal government during its early years. They told The Canadian Press they supported the plan to re-engage in peacekeeping and they believed it was going to happen.

Some blamed Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president for throwing off the Liberals’ plans. Others pointed to the military dragging its feet, or a lack of interest among senior Liberals.

Most agree, to varying degrees, another factor has been at play: the potential electoral costs of a large-scale deployment of Canadian peacekeepers overseas are seen to outweigh the benefits.

“I think the Liberal government realized there was probably little votes in it,” says retired lieutenant-general and former Canadian army commander Andrew Leslie, who was an adviser to Trudeau before being elected as a Liberal MP in 2015.

“The characteristic of this current government is its relentless and ruthless focus on how to get re-elected. And promises were made and not kept.”

Leslie, who did not run for re-election last year, made clear he thinks other governments have made similar calculations in the past.

The Liberal government insists it is living up to its commitments, and that Canada is making a real difference at the UN.

It points to the year-long deployment of helicopters to Mali, which ended in August 2019, and the occasional deployment of a transport plane to Uganda. Canada is also spearheading efforts to increase the number of women on peacekeeping missions and working to prevent the use of child soldiers in conflict.

“UN peace operations are a vital tool to helping ensure the maintenance of international peace and stability — a key pillar of the multilateral system,” Global Affairs Canada spokesman John Babcock said in a statement Friday.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s spokeswoman Floriane Bonneville said the minister is still committed to working with the UN and other international partners “to find innovative solutions to global challenges.”

Roland Paris, a former foreign-policy adviser to Trudeau, said the government “has ended up in a place where it can say that it’s meeting its commitments to re-engage with peacekeeping, at really minimal cost.”

The transport plane deployed to Uganda on occasional basis to ferry troops and equipment to different UN missions in Africa is useful, said Paris, but “on its own, it’s a minimal commitment,” adding the same could be said of the contribution to Mali.

Where Canada is leading the way, Paris argues, is on initiatives designed to make peacekeeping more effective. That includes training troops from Africa on how to conduct such operations, measures to increase the number of female peacekeepers in the field, and dealing with child soldiers.

Others such as Leslie and Jocelyn Coulon, a peacekeeping expert from Université de Montreal who also advised the Trudeau government, question the actual impact.

All say what is really needed is more Canadians in the field — something Trudeau called for ahead of the October 2015 election that brought the Liberals to power.

A survey conducted by Nanos Research on behalf of the Canadian Defence and Security Network in August found three in four respondents said they were supportive of peacekeeping. But it also found older respondents more supportive than a key target for the Liberals’ electoral efforts: young Canadians.

University of Calgary professor Jean-Christophe Boucher, in a paper analyzing the results for the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, suggested that reflected how younger generations have seen the limits of intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The government committed in August 2016 to deploying up to 600 troops and 150 police officers on UN missions, then delayed for years before sending helicopters to Mali after repeated requests from the UN and allies such as France and Germany.

The Liberals also promised in November 2017 to provide a 200-strong quick-reaction force to the UN. Three years later, it has yet to materialize.

“I see it as extreme risk sensitivity,” Paris said.

“Every country is determining its level of comfort and level of commitment, and Canada has drawn a line in a particular place. And it is making a significant contribution to UN peacekeeping, but less than some had hoped for.”

In the meantime, the UN struggles to make do with what member states have on offer. The British started a three-year deployment of 300 troops to Mali this month, but the mission there is still short hundreds of troops and police officers.

Rwanda has gone down in many books as a failure for the UN and peacekeeping in general. But Royal Military College professor Walter Dorn, one of Canada’s leading experts on peacekeeping, doesn’t see it that way.

He referred to retired major-general Roméo Dallaire’s assessment that the UN force under his command was able to save 20,000 lives during the Rwandan genocide.

“It shows that having a presence on the ground can make a difference.”

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Just Posted

AW Neill Elementary School in Port Alberni. (NEWS FILE PHOTO)
SD70 chooses new name for AW Neill School in Port Alberni

New name honours Nuu-chah-nulth Peoples’ connection to region

Douglas Holmes, current Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District chief administrative officer, is set to take on that position at the Regional District of Nanaimo come late August. (Submitted photo)
Regional District of Nanaimo’s next CAO keen to work on building partnerships

Douglas Holmes to take over top administrator role with RDN this summer

Ron MacDonald fields questions at a news conference in Halifax on Sept. 27, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Finding ‘comfortable’ indigenous monitor tough task in Tofino-area shooting death

Julian Jones case hampered by difficulty finding a civilian comfortable with privacy protocols

Port Alberni RCMP officer in command Insp. Eric Rochette presents longtime community policing volunteer Louie Aumair with a OIC appreciation certificate. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Port Alberni RCMP honour longtime volunteer

First responders receive support from broader community

The Dock+ is located on Harbour Road in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN / Alberni Valley News)
PROGRESS 2021: Port Alberni’s food hub still growing a year later

The Dock hopes to open a retail store on Alberni’s busy waterfront

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

Most Read