Canadian peacekeeping proposals out of line with UN priorities: sources

Canada has been discussing peacekeeping contribution ideas with the United Nations for months, but sources tell CBC News many of the proposals Ottawa has presented aren't considered by the UN to be operational priorities — or even necessary.

Ottawa expected to unveil details of contribution at upcoming peacekeeping summit in Vancouver

Several peacekeeping scenarios have been put forward by Ottawa, according to a UN official familiar with the talks. (Hussein Malla/Associated Press)

Canada has been discussing peacekeeping contribution ideas with the United Nations for months, but sources tell CBC News many of the proposals Ottawa has presented aren't considered by the UN to be operational priorities — or even necessary.

The latest talks are being held just weeks before Canada hosts an international peacekeeping summit and more than a year after Ottawa first pledged up to 600 Canadian Armed Forces personnel and 150 police officers toward global peace operations.

But with the conference looming, even the UN isn't clear on how the country will contribute.

''It would be very awkward for anyone to host a ministerial meeting on peacekeeping without having made a real contribution to peacekeeping,'' said one UN official, who spoke to CBC News on condition of anonymity.

It's expected that most of those details will be unveiled either right before or at the two-day UN peacekeeping summit in Vancouver which begins on Nov. 14. More than 80 countries, including some 50 defence ministers, have so far confirmed their presence at the conference where Canada will also launch an initiative aimed at preventing the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

Gender parity will be a focus of the international gathering, as will ''capability gaps that need to be filled, such as rapid deployment, helicopters and francophone units'' a UN report says. South Sudan, Mali and Haiti are listed as missions currently dealing with critical gaps.

How will Canada contribute?

Several peacekeeping scenarios have been put forward by Ottawa, according to UN officials familiar with the talks.

One involves the offer of a C-130 Hercules to the UN's logistics hub in Entebbe, Uganda. The military aircraft could be used to help transport personnel and equipment to and from missions in South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and possibly Somalia. Ottawa is also looking at capacity-building and training for peacekeepers, such as countering the threat from improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The UN seems less enthusiastic about some of the other options Ottawa is mulling, including helicopters for the mission in Haiti which other countries, including Bangladesh, have already offered, said another UN source.

The same UN source says a Canadian proposal for a rapid response force for the UN mission in Golan Heights isn't a priority right now, but were Canada to offer a rapidly-deployable infantry force that could help in the Central African Republic ''we would be happy with that."

Major need in Mali

Another country the UN considers a priority is Mali — but the peacekeeping operation there has the highest-number of fatalities of any current peacekeeping mission, a growing terrorist threat and a peace accord that the country is struggling to implement, which makes it an unattractive option for  decision-makers in Ottawa.

Mahamat Saleh Annadif, head of the UN stabilization mission in Mali (MINUSMA), has said he would welcome Canadian peacekeepers "with open arms." 

Canada's contribution could involve multi-year commitments and in the case of Mali might only begin in 2019 after Germany and Jordan end their mandates in the West African country.

UN peacekeepers from Bangladesh arrive at the Niger Battalion Base in Ansongo, in eastern Mali, in February 2015. (Marco Dormino/United Nations/Associated Press)

One of the UN sources says Canada has been asked to consider deploying personnel and equipment to Timbuktu.

''We'll see. I don't know if that message will be heard or not," the UN source said.

The UN and allies have been urging Canada to consider Mali, a country Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan visited in 2016. 

''There were even rumours the next force commander might be a Canadian,'' said a third UN official, who was in Mali when Sajjan was there. The defence minister took part in several security briefings which the official said may have contributed to a reluctance to deploy.

If Ottawa does commit to the Mali operation, Canada's contribution could include the deployment of six Griffon and Chinook helicopters.

The peacekeeping summit in Vancouver is part of a push launched by the Obama administration in 2015 to get countries with more advanced soldiers and equipment into the field. It's paid off, but has also presented challenges as some countries have been reluctant to engage in high-risk operations.

''None of them want to risk losing a soldier,'' the official said, without suggesting this was the case with Canada.

Focus on child soldiers

Ahead of the Vancouver meeting, Canada has written to UN member states requesting they sign on to a set of 17 principles aimed at preventing the recruitment and use of child soldiers. The initiative, called the Vancouver Principles, was developed in co-ordination with the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative and ''the child protection community,'' according to the Canadian letter.

''Children associated with armed forces or armed groups are often exposed to horrific violence — often forced both to witness and commit violence, while themselves being abused, exploited, injured, or even killed as a result,'' says an explainer accompanying the note, and a draft of the non-binding resolution.

It goes on to say that the principles could be put to work in several ways, including training for peacekeepers on how to interact with a child soldier, liaising with schools and orphanages to help prevent abductions, and adjusting patrol routes to include areas where at-risk children are known to live and play.