Canada offering 200 ground troops for future UN peacekeeping operations

The Liberal government has announced Canada is prepared to offer up to 200 ground troops for future United Nations peacekeeping operations. Separately, it will also provide hundreds of other personnel through the deployment of transport and attack helicopters, cargo planes and military trainers.

Trudeau says peacekeeping has become rooted in a kind of nostalgia, 'and there must be a new vision'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses delegates during the 2017 United Nations Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial conference in Vancouver on Wednesday. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Canada is prepared to offer up to 200 ground troops, transport and armed helicopters, cargo planes and military trainers for future United Nations peacekeeping operations, the Liberal government announced Wednesday.

The five-year military commitment is part of a comprehensive package that includes millions of dollars to help other countries boost the involvement of women in peace operations and strengthen security for those involved in high-risk missions.

The presentation of the long-awaited list of military "capabilities" was reported last week by CBC News.

With the details in place, the list is now being registered with the international office overseeing peacekeeping more than 14 months after the Trudeau government committed to providing up to 600 troops and 150 police officers for UN operations.

In his address to the Vancouver conference, Trudeau said peacekeeping in the Canadian imagination has become rooted in a kind of nostalgia, but it is no longer what it used to be, and there must be a new vision. 

"We are making these pledges today, because we believe in the United Nations and we believe in peacekeeping," he said. "What we will do is step up and make the contributions we are uniquely able to provide."

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Trudeau announces UN Peacekeeping commitment

6 years ago
Duration 0:53
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke at the UN Peacekeeping meeting in Vancouver Wednesday

Many missions have become dangerous, Trudeau said.

"We're asking peace operations to do more — not only to deal with violence when it erupts, but to respond to the entire life cycle of conflict: preventing its outbreak, supporting complicated peace processes and helping people to rebuild their lives when conflict ends.… That is the reality of modern peace operations.

"Given that reality, we need to try new things."

Numbers could go up

Senior government officials, speaking on background prior to the announcement, said the numbers could eventually reach what was pledged last year, but the focus of Canada's renewed involvement will see smaller more tightly defined missions, rather than the mass deployments of troops as in the past.

The country's top military commander, in a interview late Wednesday with CBC News, reaffirmed the commitment of 600 military personnel, noting participation in UN missions would involve members of the army and air force.

"We will be deploying up to 600," said Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of defence staff. He noted that in addition to those involved in direct peacekeeping operations, there will be two streams of Canadian military members helping train other less experienced countries and those troops would count towards the total. 

The Conservative foreign affairs critic, MP Erin O'Toole, a former veterans minister who served as an air force navigator, said the confusion was created by the Liberal government whose initial commitment left the public with the impression that there would be 600 boots on the ground.

Canada is offering up to 200 troops to future UN peacekeeping operations

6 years ago
Duration 7:27
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"There was a clear understanding," he said. "They have an entirely different construct. My disappointment is that rather than own up to the fact their initial commitment was ill-conceived, they've dressed this up with a confusing range of proposals."

Walter Dorn, a professor of defence studies at the Royal Military College of Canada, said Wednesday's announcement is bound to disappoint both the public and the UN, which has been repeatedly calling for Canadian support.

"This is a smaller version of what we promised the UN," he said.

Negotiations with the UN on which missions to undertake have yet to get underway and it could be as long as two years before the first soldiers and equipment get out the door, the government officials said.

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6 years ago
Duration 8:21
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"We are just starting down this path," said one official. "The exact what and where is going to take a little time to sort out."

Both Trudeau and Vance signalled that the first commitment could involve the deployment of a C-130J transport to Uganda, but were unclear on the timeline. Uganda is a hub for regional peacekeeping operations.

Turned down missions

Trudeau said his government has been talking with the UN about what kind of contribution it could make for 18 months, but was unclear on why those discussions took so long.

The UN has regularly bombarded the Liberal government with specific mission and equipment requests and all of them have — to this point —  been turned down or left under consideration.

The latest report from the international office of peacekeeping — dated August 2017 — sees urgent requests for helicopters, troops, bomb disposal teams and surveillance equipment in Mali and South Sudan as well as police support in Haiti.

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The biggest component of Canada's proposed military commitment will be a so-called quick reaction force of troops, likely French-speaking, which would be deployed on a UN mission to either keep — or enforce the peace, depending on the conditions .

Those troops would be called upon respond to emergencies and attacks on civilians or aid workers.

Separately, the air force will be prepared to deploy CH-147 Chinook helicopters and CH-146 Griffon helicopters, which can be configured with machine guns as attack helicopters.

The cargo planes, to be used to ferry other UN peacekeepers, would be C-130J and possibly C-17 transports, depending upon the mission.

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Included in the package — as CBC News reported Tuesday — is a $15 million trust fund to help other countries recruit women soldiers and police officers for peacekeeping missions and provide enhanced training for those already in uniform.

An additional $6 million is also being made available to the UN that will ultimately help strengthen security for women involved in dangerous missions.

Child soldiers

Also on Wednesday, retired lieutenant-general Roméo Dallaire helped roll out a new set of international commitments intended to eliminate the recruiting and use of child soldiers.

The UN released a report last month that found more than 8,000 children were killed or injured in conflicts around the world in 2016 and thousands of children had been recruited or used by warring factions.

Academy Award-winning actor Angelina Jolie delivered the keynote address on preventing and better addressing sexual violence in armed conflict.

She thanked the Canadian government for hosting the event and for its peacekeeping contribution, but called on world leaders to recognize sexual violence as a weapon and do more to end it..

"It is cheaper than a bullet, and it has lasting consequences that unfold with sickening predictability that make it so cruelly effective," Jolie said.

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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.

With files from The Canadian Press