By Scott Taylor
Last Friday was National Peacekeepers’ Day and in honour of this momentous occasion Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted out the following message: “Canadian Peacekeepers put themselves in harm’s way to protect Human Rights, lay the foundations of peace and help rebuild societies after war. Today we honour them for their tireless work.”
This sentiment certainly echoes the Liberal Party’s 2015 election campaign promise to make Canada a great peacekeeper again.
That pledge to get Canadian soldiers wearing the U.N. Blue berets again, rather than sending our military to participate in U.S. initiated global conflicts, seemed to resonate with the electorate, and Trudeau swept into power with a majority government.
In the summer of 2016, less than one year into their mandate, the Liberals announced that Canada would be committing a force of 600 military and 150 police for a twelve month deployment, at a budgeted cost of $450 million, to an unnamed U.N. mission in Africa. That was first announced by Chief of Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance, and subsequently confirmed by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.
Then nothing happened. Despite the fact that the U.N. had several missions involving ongoing peacekeeping efforts in Africa it seemed that the Canadian government could not decide where to commit their promised resources.
Fast-forward to November 2017 and Canada played host to a U.N. Defence Minister’s conference in Vancouver. At that juncture Canada had so few actual military personnel assigned to U.N. missions that were we not the host nation, we would not have been allowed to participate in the conference.
Trudeau announced at that meeting that Canada was prepared to commit 200 ground troops, transport and armed helicopters, cargo planes and military trainers for future U.N. peacekeeping operations.
This pronouncement led to a round of mild applause, but keen eyed pundits were quick to ask what happened to the original 2016 pledge of a 600 strong force in Africa?
General Vance was quick to reaffirm “We will be deploying up to 600,” but that this figure would include soldiers not actually deployed to the foreign peacekeeping operations.
In the end, Canada settled on providing the medical airlift capacity for the U.N. mission in Mali. This effort included the deployment of two CH-147F Chinook helicopters – one of which is configured as a mobile air ambulance complete with a surgical suite, four armed CH-146 Griffon utility helicopters and approximately 250 military personnel.
The mission was to be twelve months in duration, and as such it was to have been concluded on July 31 of this year. Unofficially, this termination date has been extended until at least the end of August. The Romanian Air force, which is to replace our contingent, is not yet ready to deploy. Despite repeated pleas from U.N. authorities for Canada to remain until at least October, when the Romanians will be in place, the Canadian government has steadfastly refused to officially extend our solitary peacekeeping effort.
This is in stark contrast to the rapidity with which Canada has been extending all of our current non-U.N. foreign military deployments. We presently have two separate missions in Iraq totaling up to 850 personnel and at least four Griffon helicopters. The Special Forces train, advice and assist role, and the NATO training mission have recently been extended to 2021 and 2020 respectively. The commitment of 200 trainers to Ukraine was recently extended to 2023 and the provision of a battle group 500 strong to Latvia is open ended.
No matter when exactly our last chopper departs the Mali mission, it will certainly be prior to the federal election on October 21. So after a four-year term, Canada under the Liberals will be back to contributing zilch to the U.N., while we continue to deploy considerable forces on U.S. or NATO led military adventures.
Will this impact the election results? I doubt it.
Unlike the mission to Afghanistan, our soldiers are thankfully not returning to Canada in coffins on a regular basis. Canadians did not relate to the mission in Mali, they did not debate it, and according to recent polls the majority of our population do not even know what purpose our Canadian Armed Forces serve.
At least Trudeau thought enough to thank the peacekeepers for their tireless work. Happy International Peacekeepers Day indeed.