Canada cuts more cheques for UN peacekeeping, says nothing about troop commitment

Canada committed Tuesday to a second, expanded program to increase the participation of women in United Nations peacekeeping missions — but made no mention of an unfulfilled commitment to deliver a quick-reaction force of soldiers for international peace operations.
Canadian peacekeepers prepare for a parade at Maple Leaf Camp in Port-au-Prince on Nov. 28,1997. (Daniel Morel/Canadian Press, AP)

Canada quietly committed on the world stage today to a second, expanded program to increase the participation of women in United Nations peacekeeping missions. 

There was, however, no mention in Defence Minister Anita Anand's speech to a virtual international conference out of South Korea of a long-standing, unfulfilled commitment to deliver a quick-reaction force of soldiers for international peace operations — something the U.S. has been demanding.

Instead, in a pre-recorded statement, Anand pledged an additional $7.7 million over two years for the Elsie Initiative. The initiative was launched four years ago at a splashy peacekeeping conference in Vancouver where the Liberal government made several promises to help revitalize peace operations.

Several of those commitments — including the promise of a 200-strong UN rapid response force — remain unfulfilled and Canada's boots-on-the-ground participation in UN missions is still near an all-time low. 

Canadian infantry and medical personnel disembark a Chinook helicopter as they take part in a medical evacuation demonstration on the United Nations base in Gao, Mali, on December 22, 2018. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

In her remarks, Anand chose to focus on the financial clout Canada is bringing to the UN, including the signature women's initiative.

"This effort will build on lessons learned since 2017 while increasing our ability to work with the UN, member states and partners round the world," said Anand, whose remarks were delivered both on her behalf and for Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly.

The additional money for the Elsie Initiative is supposed to help the UN complete its gender parity strategy and support the construction of "gender responsive camp accommodations" at UN missions around the world.

The Liberal government, Anand said, will significantly "scale up" its contributions to the UN's Global Peacebuilding Fund over several years. It is the biggest financial commitment, involving $70 million over three years.

The federal government also promising to spend an additional $2 million to help the peacekeeping department further implement the principles agreed upon by nations at the 2017 Vancouver conference.

Canada will also renew multi-year funding for specialized peacekeeping training.

"This is essential given the complex missions peacekeepers undertake," Anand said.

Canada was among dozens of nations participating in the two-day summit, assembled to discuss emerging issues and trends in peacekeeping.

In November, The Canadian Press reported that the United States had asked Canada to make good on its commitment to provide a 200-soldier quick reaction force to the UN — something promised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2017.

In a letter sent to Global Affairs Canada, the Biden administration also insisted that Canada come to the two-day South Korean-hosted conference with plans to pledge drones and medical units to peacekeeping missions.

There was no sign Tuesday of those promises being fulfilled.

As of the end of September, Canada had only 57 police and military personnel taking part in UN missions around the world. That's up only slightly from the all-time low of 34 uniformed personnel recorded last year.

Walter Dorn, a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada and the country's leading expert on peacekeeping, has a website that tracks Canada's UN commitments.

Canada did send a helicopter contingent to Mali to support the peacekeeping mission in the troubled west African country, but the aircraft were withdrawn after a year in the summer of 2019.

Even though gender is at the centre of Canada's peacekeeping pledges, the statistics compiled by Dorn show only 17 women — both police and military — are on deployed operations at the moment. That's down slightly from the 21 women who served when the former Conservative government was in power.

CBC News reported in early 2020 that Canada came within a whisker of losing its place in a United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan during the fall of 2018 because of the military's inability to consistently deploy enough women to meet the world body's guidelines.


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.