Senator slams sparse Canadian military presence in Africa

Canada's meagre military contribution in Africa is a disgrace, longtime Liberal Senator Peter Stollery charged on Tuesday.

Comments made as Canada's top general appears before parliamentary committee

Canada's meagre military contribution in Africa is a disgrace, longtime Liberal Senator Peter Stollery charged on Tuesday.

Stollery said he believed the limited presence of Canadian troops in the continent was a result of military officials believing it was not as "sexy" as helping the U.S. by fighting in Afghanistan.

His remarks came after Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier appeared at a Senate Foreign Affairs committee meeting about the military's involvement in Africa.

Currently there are 64 Canadian staff officers, ceasefire observers and military trainers serving in operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Sierra Leone.

Hillier told the committee that the Canadian military is stretched by its overseas deployments.

"We are now at the extreme limits of what we can contribute anywhere," said Hillier. "There are many poor places around this world that need desperate help from a whole variety of countries, and obviously Canada is not the sole source to provide that help. Maybe some of those other countries have to step up to those other places."

More than half of Canada's approximately 4,000 troops serving overseas are in Afghanistan.

Stollery called Afghan President Hamid Karzai "a stooge" in May, drawing criticism from the Conservative government.

His comments Tuesday were rebuked for their "scandalous language" by fellow Liberal Senator Roméo Dallaire, who commanded UN peacekeepers in Rwanda in the 1990s.

"Nothing is sexy in war," said Dallaire. "The whole concept of war is perverse, and the reason we're in one area and not another is because political decisions have been taken."

Dallaire said he disagreed with Hillier's contention, arguing that the military could provide at least 600 troops in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Earlier this year, NDP Leader Jack Layton called the situation in Darfur "genocide in slow motion," and urged the Canadian military to take a lead role.

Layton has been one of the most vocal critics of the increasing combat role in Afghanistan, arguing that the military should return to the peacekeeping function it has been known for internationally the past several decades.

Before being appointed to the Senate by former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, Stollery served as an MP for nine years in Toronto's Spadina riding.