When he first took office in 2015, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claimed “Canada is back” in playing an important and prevalent role in UN peacekeeping. In August 2016, the Liberal government committed close to 600 soldiers, 150 police officers, and $450 million in development funding for a three-year peacekeeping operation. The mission’s location decision was expected for Christmas; Cabinet members had conducted fact-finding trips to African nations while military officials and other personnel mapped potential locations. Unfortunately, the decision was pushed back, and on March 25, 2017, Trudeau stated that while such a peacekeeping mission is not ruled out for 2017, “[it’s] a decision we’re not going to fast track. We’re making it responsibly and thoughtfully.”
Upon Canada’s original announcement for increased involvement in peacekeeping, there was a great deal of excitement on an international scale. In the past, Trudeau’s predecessor, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, placed a greater emphasis on providing military aid than funding peacekeeping missions. This was despite the fact that his predecessor devoted millions of dollars to such operations. For instance, during Harper’s term in office, Canadian funding for land-mine clearance around the world dropped from $49.2 million in 2007 to just $7.9 million, according to Mines Action Canada. Specifically, funds in Cambodia, a nation with anywhere from six to eight million landmines still hidden on the ground, dropped from upwards of $3 million to zero in 2013. This year, a single grant of $692,236 was dispersed; the large decrease in peacekeeping funds and slow steps taken by the Liberal government are truly disheartening.
Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan stated that the government is working on the deployment decision “as quickly as possible.” It was reported that a mission to Mali is currently being discussed. The mission, titled United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, or MINUSMA, works to stabilize the region by supporting political processes and other security related tasks in the aftermath of the Tuareg rebellion which saw a militant Islamist group seize control. This mission has proven to be highly dangerous – garnering the highest mortality of any UN mission. Since its inception, there have been 114 fatalities, according to the UN website.
The high mortality rate could explain Canada’s cautious approach to the endeavor. As Sajjan said, “This is not the peacekeeping of the past. […] We have to be better prepared, better equipped, better trained and have as much awareness of the situation as we can.” Rather than rush in and risk losing more lives than necessary, Canada has chosen to take small steps. The government hopes that by examining the needs of the situation and adjusting the aid provisions accordingly, they can avoid excess casualties while also increasing the effectiveness of aid provided. UN officials, such as the outgoing head of peacekeeping operations, Herve Ladsous, are “very eager” to see the plans Canada has in store. Despite the slow progress, he still maintains faith that, “What I wanted to see and what I still hope to see is the concrete result [for nations in need].”
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