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

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

(File Photo)
Sparwood accepting submissions for 2021 Street Art Banner Program

Artwork depicting a love for Sparwood’s community and heritage will be accepted until Feb. 19

Interior Health reported 79 new cases of COVID-19 and two new death in the region Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)
79 new COVID-19 cases, two deaths reported in Interior Health

Both of Friday’s deaths were both recorded at long-term care homes

(File photo)
Interior Health declares COVID-19 outbreak at Teck’s Elk Valley operations over

48 cases were linked to three Teck locations in the Elk Valley

Joanna and Aysha Haines opened their business, Drift and Sonder, on Jan. 22. (Soranne Floarea)
New businesses popping up in Fernie despite pandemic headwinds

More businesses in Fernie have opened than closed their doors since the pandemic began

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

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

An Uber driver’s vehicle is seen after the company launched service, in Vancouver, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Several taxi companies have lost a court bid to run Uber and Lyft off the road in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Taxi companies lose court bid to quash Uber, Lyft approvals in British Columbia

Uber said in a statement that the ruling of the justice is clear and speaks for itself

A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vintage military aircraft moving from Chilliwack to new home at B.C. Aviation Museum

The challenging move to Vancouver Island will be documented by Discovery Channel film crews

A video posted to social media by Chilliwack resident Rob Iezzi shows a teenager getting kicked in the face after being approached by three suspects on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (YouTube/Rob i)
VIDEO: Security cameras capture ‘just one more assault’ near B.C. high school

Third high-school related assault captured by Chilliwack resident’s cameras since beginning of 2021

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

Most Read