By Michael Nickerson
You have to wonder if he really knew what he was getting into. Justin Trudeau that is, while on the campaign trail in 2015 promising a return to Canadian peacekeeping. It was certainly music to the ears for many a Canadian weary of the tub-thumping bombast of the Harper years and arguably helped push Team Justin™ over the top and into power. But did he really think it would be just a case of slapping on a blue helmet and getting everyone to shake hands? You’d have to be a complete idiot to think that.
So scratch that one. The prime minster is not a complete idiot. By all accounts he can walk and chew gum at the same time, speak in full sentences (in two languages no less), and possibly balance a chequebook (the jury is still out on that one). In fact, the man is a visionary, always inspiring, be it about the environment, peacekeeping, or even reconciliation with Canada’s First Nations. Worthy of a toast with clean drinking water, that.
So let’s give the man his due and assume that when he promised Canada would get back to peacekeeping he knew what that meant: we’d likely be involved in killing children. Child soldiers, to be specific.
Now, no one can blame him for not saying so at the time as the headlines would have been a little problematic. But “supporting international peace operations with the United Nations” as he promised to do in 2015, has increasingly involved engaging those not just armed with assault rifles, but also still dealing with the onset of puberty. General decency requires that you’ve thought things through before you ask your soldiers to join the fun.
According to the recent “Joint Doctrine Note (JDN) 2017-01 Child Soldiers” issued by the Canadian Armed Forces, “Encounters with child soldiers during operations can have significant psychological impacts for the personnel involved, particularly if those encounters involve engaging armed children.” Who da thunk?
And while this JDN outlines, for the first time, how CAF members should deal with child soldiers, it also speaks to the anticipated poop storm. For every engagement “not well-handled, and communicated effectively, there is strong potential for significant negative impact on the mission, locally, in Canada, and at the international level.” Makes you wonder where the priorities really lie. But hey, at least they’re thinking.
Which is not something that can be said about the last major mission involving the CAF, namely Afghanistan. From top to bottom it was a rushed, poorly reasoned screw up, full of political and military compromises, with the brunt of all that incompetence borne by the soldiers we sent and the people we sent them to help. There seemed no thought given to the aftermath of mental health issues, broken families and suicides, nor any plan to deal with it or pay for it.
Well surprise! War costs more than just the equipment and ordnance involved, as the CAF and federal government have belatedly learned, and to some degree acknowledged, if not adequately addressed. It’s so far involved solutions more focused on counting pennies and saving face than anything else, and that doesn’t bode well for budding new Canadian peacekeepers soon to deploy.
And deploy they will — some 600 soldiers and 150 police officers, if the promises of Team Justin™ are to be believed; likely in Mali, most certainly in Africa, where you can finally bet the farm, the house, and perhaps your firstborn that those people will not only face conflict, death and tragedy, but child soldiers. And some will ultimately kill children. Bank on it.
If we have finally learned the cost of war in Afghanistan (and that’s a big if), do we now understand the cost of peace in Africa? Will the support be there for the veterans who return from their tours, medically, financially and emotionally? Will they clearly understand why they are there and why they are making the sacrifices they are?
Assuming the prime minister is not a complete idiot, he has answers to those questions. Whether he acts on them is another matter entirely. That stuff costs.