Politics

Canada to have 20 police officers in Mali as part of UN mission by year's end

Canada plans to fulfil its commitment to send 20 police officers to support the peacekeeping mission in Mali by the end of the year, according to the commanding RCMP officer in the West African country.

10 currently deployed as part of peacekeeping and training missions

Supt. Kelly Bradshaw, commander of the Canadian police contingent in Mali, plans to have 20 officers in the West African country by year's end. (Submitted by the RCMP)

Canada plans to fulfil its commitment to send 20 police officers to support the peacekeeping mission in Mali by the end of the year, according to the commanding RCMP officer in the West African country.

The RCMP promised to send 20 officers last summer. At the moment, 10 are deployed as part of the UN mission that's trying to bring stability to Mali amid an ethnic and jihadist insurgency. 

"By the end of this year our goal is to have 20 police officers in Mali," RCMP Supt. Kelly Bradshaw, who is in charge of all Canadian police officers in Mali, said from Bamako, the capital, on Friday. Countries around the world are sending a total of some 1,700 officers. 

"I didn't think that many people would be interested in [joining] and I actually spoke to a lot of people who are very interested in coming to Mali or Africa."

Canada's policing pledge is in addition to its military commitment, which comes to an end later this month. 

Bradshaw, who went over in April, said a full deployment means she'll be able to fan more officers across the country and follow Malian security forces as they approach the dangerous central and northern parts of the country. 

Medical personnel move a patient from a Chinook helicopter in Gao, Mali, on Dec. 22, 2018. Canada's military commitment in Mali ends this month. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

"Our main goal right now is to get people out into the regions where the, you know, the real capacity-building needs to happen," she said in an interview to mark National Peacekeeper's Day. 

"We're really just getting established in this mission, gaining a good reputation of being professional and safe and taking things to a higher standard," she said.

"We'll be able to have a lot more influence as things move forward and as we gain those positions of more leadership roles."

Sgt. Stevens Hamelin, originally with the Montreal city police, has been in the country for six months, with another six to go. He's one of two Canadian police officers in Mali who are not with the RCMP and is working with the European Union's civilian capacity-building mission, to train Malian police.

Some of that is simply training officers to show up to work. 

"They start from scratch and they have nothing.f Lack of equipment, lack of staff," he said. 

"We're trying to change mentalities and they were skeptical about it but now they are starting to understand what we mean."

Sgt. Stevens Hamelin, originally with the Montreal city police, has been in Mali for six months. (Submitted by the RCMP)

National Peacekeepers' Day, established in 2008, was set up to commemorate the events of Aug. 9, 1974, when nine Canadian peacekeepers serving with the United Nations in Egypt and Israel lost their lives when their plane was shot down over Syria.

Those deaths are top of mind for Bradshaw, who has been to five funerals in her first four months in Mali, including one on Friday for a Bangladeshian colleague. 

"It makes me think of the fact that people are willing to leave their families," she said. "I'm hoping that I do have an impact while I'm here. Having been here now I realize how much this country does need international help to gain that security and stability again."

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the RCMP's involvement in peacekeeping operations. The first mission was in 1989 when the RCMP sent 100 members to Namibia.

The policing mission in Mali comes as Ottawa looks at increasing police deployment levels to UN and non-UN missions.

Depleting numbers were flagged to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland in a briefing note released last month under access to information laws. 

"From 2006 to 2017, Canadian police constituted Canada's largest contribution of personnel to peace operations and Canada was the predominant Western contributor of individual police officers," notes the memo.

That plummeted in 2017 when just 19 police officers deployed with the UN. 

As of July 24, 77 Canadian police were deployed worldwide in peace and stabilization roles, including in Ukraine, Haiti, Iraq and the West Bank.

The briefing note goes on to mention that "directors general responsible for the Canadian Police Arrangement have set out to increase police deployment levels."

With files from the CBC's Murray Brewster

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