Back In The Blue Helmet: Canada’s New Commitment To UN Peacekeeping


In August, the Canadian Government, headed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, announced their new commitment toward UN Peacekeeping Missions. Committing $450 million, and up to 600 troops to take part in peacekeeping missions around the world, it marks an emerging Canadian re-interest into peacekeeping and its role in such missions.

In terms of peacekeeping, Canada has a long history of involvement. Originally stemming from the Suez Crisis in 1956, when a UN brokered ceasefire was policed by the first UN peacekeeping force, Canada was instrumental due to its help in engineering and organizing the force. In the 1990s, Canada remained highly involved in UN peacekeeping forces, being ranked 6th out of 84 countries in 1995 in terms of human personnel contributed towards peacekeeping missions. With prominent members such as Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire serving in critical regions such as Rwanda during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, Canada maintained a very real and prominent role in UN peacekeeping forces.

However, by the early 2000s, the prominence of Canada’s role in peacekeeping began to wane. Historically, political, military and ethical troubles, especially the confusion regarding UN peacekeeping of the 1990s, especially in Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Somalia. Missions in the former Yugoslavia were mixed with non-UN authorized NATO bombing causing for a wave of condemnation and criticism, while the lack of UN peacekeeping resources in Rwanda left lasting impressions of the inability for the UN to effectively react to crisis situations. Specifically concerning Canada, the abuse and murder of a Somali teen by Canadian Soldiers during their tour of duty with the peacekeeping force in Somalia provided a lasting sense of disgrace among Canadian peacekeeping contingents.

These experiences left a lasting negative mark in terms of the Canadian political establishments’ will in committing to a new wave of peacekeeping missions. Consequently, Canada’s last commitment of armed soldiers was in 2001 with a peacekeeping mission to Eritrea. Since 2001, Canada has still involved itself in peacekeeping missions, however, it mostly remaining involved in positions involving the training of law enforcement and other policing functions. Although the previous administration under

Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated that Canada was relevant and “still involved in peacekeeping”, his words proved contrary to Canada’s minimal involvement various missions around the world. Statistically being a shadow to Canada’s illustrious history with peacekeeping, the lack of commitment presented by the last administration was criticized as causing Canada to have “nothing to contribute to [the] conversation.”

The new commitment as outlined by the new administration could potentially mark a reverse of the growing trend of stalled Canadian commitment to Peacekeeping missions. Reflecting the negative outlook coming from the controversy of peacekeeping missions of the 1990s, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stefan Dion, stated that “there were few traditional, clean-cut peacekeeping missions in the world.” Realizing and coming to terms with this fact,

the new administration states that Canada “cannot be absent from peace operation missions”, reflecting on how Canada must take back its position as a leader in such operations.

Consequently, with such development, the Trudeau administration may very well re-expand Canada’s long dormant interest into potentially regaining its status as a leader in such peacekeeping issues. This current re-commitment and potential future commitments highlight Canada’s long standing reputation and soft power as a leader in human rights and protecting vulnerable peoples, especially in light of Canada’s commitment to the “responsibility to protect*.”

As Canada’s new commitment could possibly re-position the nation as a key mediator in a world of strained relations, the nation could very well emerge as an independent yet influential leader, fostering a new culture in the belief and study of peaceful resolution and policing. As Canada itself is relatively free of political, social, economic and military strife, its stability could allow it to radically strengthen its position as a stable pillar and bastion of such peacekeeping values. By developing a demand and need for such peacekeeping commitment within Canada, societal organizations, especially academic institutions could mirror such efforts, indirectly spawning new research and insight into related studies. Creating a trend in academic research and societal development could very well usher in a new generation based on a culture of peacekeeping that was once more prevalent in Canada.

*The responsibility to protect is a commitment endorsed by all member states of the United Nations at the 2005 World Summit. It states that when a sovereign state is unable to protect its own citizens from mass atrocity crimes and human rights violations, then it is the responsibility of other sovereign nations to do so.