Quebec provincial police could join Mali peacekeeping mission

A contingent of officers from the Sûreté du Québec could soon be heading to the West African country of Mali as part of Canada’s peacekeeping efforts.

Past Haiti mission prompted several sexual misconduct reports

Sûreté du Québec Lt. Sophie Gougeon recently returned from Bamako, Mali, where she helped the RCMP assess whether a police contingent should join Canadian peacekeepers in the West African country, torn by civil war since 2012. (Sûreté du Québec)

A contingent of officers from the Sûreté du Québec could soon be heading to the West African country of Mali as part of Canada's peacekeeping efforts.

The provincial police officers would help train Malian police in specialized techniques such as crime scene or major crime investigations, including homicide, said SQ Lt. Sophie Gougeon.

Gougeon spent a week in Mali's capital of Bamako last June with the RCMP, to assess whether a police contingent should go to the country.

"Are there any hospitals? What can they provide to our people if they are hurt or sick?"

"We just wanted to be sure that our people will be well taken care of if anything happens to them," she said.

The West African country has been in turmoil since insurgent groups began fighting for independence in northern Mali in 2012. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

CBC News reported last month that Canada plans to deploy up to 20 civilian police officers to the civil war-torn country, which has been one of the deadliest United Nations peacekeeping missions in recent years.

Gougeon contributed to the RCMP's report to the federal government, which the government will consult before issuing a final decision about dispatching police officers, likely this fall.

The first Canadian military team arrived in Mali at the end of June.

Members of the Canadian forces left CFB Trenton, in Ontario, on July 5, heading to Mali for Operation Presence, the military operation to support the United Nations peace mission. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

Canada hopes bringing in female officers such as Gougeon will help focus its peacekeeping efforts on the plight of women. Authorities are also interested in recruiting police from Quebec, since the mission is in a French-speaking country.

However, Quebec police involvement in another peacekeeping mission — this one in Haiti — only a handful of years ago led to reports of sexual misconduct against both provincial police and Montreal city police officers.

Keeping an eye on peers' behaviour

Gougeon, who took part in the mission to Haiti, says steps will be taken to prevent a repeat of past incidents.

Participants will be warned about proper behaviour during their training. They will have to sign documents pledging to conduct themselves appropriately, and they will be reminded of the existence of an employee support line that provides for advice and counselling.

Officers will also be asked to keep an eye on each other's behaviour.

"UN personnel are meeting with them, and they are constantly talking about it," Gougeon said. "We are doing everything we can to make sure no one is crossing the line on that subject."

While Gougeon says she cannot predict whether Quebec provincial police officers will eventually end up in Mali, she says her team felt perfectly comfortable in the country.

"We felt safe. People, when they saw us, we were welcome. We didn't see anything that made us believe we were not welcome there."


Angelica Montgomery is a journalist in Quebec City for CBC News.

With files from the CBC's Spencer Van Dyk and Murray Brewster