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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Surrey Board of Trade is calling on the provincial government to implement a temporary paid sick-leave program. (Unsplash.com photo by Kelly Sikkema)
Surrey Board of Trade calls for temporary paid sick-leave program

Reccomendations sent to provincial labour minister, news release notes

North Surrey Sport and Ice Complex. (Photo: larkgroup.com)
North Surrey Sport & Ice Complex earns B.C. facility excellence award

Award is among four presented by BC Recreation and Parks Association

Low tide offered plenty of space for people to relax on White Rock's beach Sunday afternoon. (Aaron Hinks photo)
City of White Rock asking outside visitors to stay away

South Surrey residents encouraged to visit, while others urged to stick close to home

Surrey Central SkyTrain Station. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Suspect accused of ‘abhorrent’ assaults at Surrey SkyTrain stations

Transit Police say assaults were on April 9, 14 and 17

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Trudeau says he is glad he got AstraZeneca, vaccines are only way out of pandemic

‘The most important thing is to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you’

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dip in COVID-19 cases with 572 newly announced in B.C.

No new deaths have been reported but hospitalized patients are up to 481, with 161 being treated in intensive care

Ripy Jubbal of Abbotsford has received a 30-month jail sentence for the fraudulent use of credit cards and credit card data. (Facebook photo)
Abbotsford woman sentenced for $80K in fraudulent credit card purchases

Ripy Jubbal and spouse used identities of 19 different victims, court hears

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

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. ‘should be able to’ offer 1st dose of COVID vaccine to kids 12+ by end of June: Henry

Health Canada authorized the vaccine for younger teens this morning

A woman in the Harrison Mills area was attacked by a cougar on Tuesday, May 4. B.C. Conservation Officers killed two male cougars in the area; the attack was determined to be predatory in nature. (File photo)
2 cougars killed following attack on woman in Agassiz area

Attack victim remains in hospital in stable condition

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. CDC updates info, acknowledging small respiratory droplets can spread COVID-19

Large droplets, not aerosols had been fixture of public health messaging for many months

Most Read