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Canada returns to peacekeeping, but we're no Ethiopia

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories with The National newsletter's Jonathon Gatehouse.

Newsletter: A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories

After more than a year of speculation, the Canadian government announced that it is sending peacekeepers to Mali. (Daniel Morel/Canadian Press, AP)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • Canada is peacekeeping again
  • A 'serial bomber' in Austin, Tex.
  • Putin wins predictable Russian election

Backing up the big boys

Canada is back in the peacekeeping business.

This morning, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan finally made official what had been expected for months — that Canada's military will be deployed to Mali to back up the international effort to combat Islamic radicals in West Africa.

The deployment, which is scheduled to start this August, will be modest — two Chinook airlift helicopters, four armed Griffon escort whirlybirds and an estimated 200 to 250 troops, most of whom will perform support functions behind the front lines.

That hasn't calmed the concerns of the opposition.

Canada's peacekeeping commitment pales in comparison to that of Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Rwanda. (AFP/Getty Images)

"We fear Mali could be another Rwanda," said James Bezan, the Conservative's National Defence critic. (The Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in MaliMINUSMA for short — has already resulted in 162 peacekeeper deaths since it began in 2013, far exceeding the 27 blue helmets who died during the Rwandan genocide.)

But even with the new, year-long commitment, Canada remains a bit player in peacekeeping, currently ranking 78th out of 123 contributing nations, with just 41 police and soldiers currently in the field.

Top-ranked Ethiopia, by comparison, has contributed 8,338 personnel. Bangladesh, which occupies the number two spot, has deployed 7,023 troops and police. Rwanda has 6,815; India, 6,712; Pakistan, 6,218; and Nepal, 5,490.

The full list of contributors to the UN's 23 ongoing missions reveals that it is largely developing nations that are answering the call. France ranks 31st with 820 personnel. The United Kingdom is in 35th place with 703 soldiers deployed. And the U.S., which already has special forces on the ground in West Africa, ranks 73rd.

Canada's full deployment to Mali should move the country up to around 50th place in contributions. And if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau follows through on a November 2017 pledge to eventually have 600 troops and 150 police devoted to global missions, the country still wouldn't crack the top 30.

Mongolia currently ranks 27th, with a contribution of 881 personnel.

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A murderous mystery

Police in Austin, Tex., are warning that a "skilled" serial bomber is stalking the city.

Last night, two men walking along a suburban street were injured by a blast that was apparently set off by a tripwire. Both are recovering in hospital from non-life threatening wounds, but others have not been so lucky.

The Texas capital, Austin, has been the scene of a series of unsolved bombings in the month of March. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

On March 2, a 39-year-old man was killed at his home by a parcel bomb. Ten days later, two more hand-delivered bombs exploded, killing a 17-year-old boy, injuring his mother and wounding a 75-year-old woman.

All of the explosive devices were left outside the recipients' doors.

Investigators had originally focused on a hate-crime motive, since the victims of the first three attacks were all black or Hispanic. But last night's victims were described as "Anglo males," leading police to rethink their theory of the case.

"What we have seen now is a significant change from what appeared to be three very targeted attacks to what was, last night, an attack that would have hit a random victim that happened to walk by," Brian Manley, the interim Austin police chief, told reporters. "So we've definitely seen a change in the method that this suspect … is using."

Police are appealing for the public's assistance — the reward for the bomber's arrest now stands at $115,000 — and are urging people to avoid suspicious bags, backpacks and packages.

On the night of March 18, two men walking on a suburban street were injured by a blast. It appears to have been set off by a tripwire. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

The suspect has "a higher level of sophistication, a higher level of skill," than originally thought, said Manley.

Police say they have persons of interest, but "no leading suspect" at the moment.

Putin his doubters to shame

There are sure bets in life.

Like chicken being one of the airline entrees. Or the New York Yankees over-spending on the free agent market. And, of course, Vladimir Putin winning an election.

Russian President Vladimir Putin won re-election on Sunday with a reported 72 per cent of the vote. (Sergei Chirkov/Reuters)

Yesterday — to the surprise of no one — the former KGB agent-turned-politician won a fourth term as Russia's president with almost 77 per cent of the popular vote, helped along by electoral authorities who disqualified his only real challenger, anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny.

Putin's opponents had called on Russia's citizens to boycott the non-contest. But the 67 per cent voter turnout was actually slightly higher than in 2012 — propelled perhaps by alleged incidents of forced voting and apparent ballot stuffing, caught by live cameras.

Nonetheless, with no one in a position to actually investigate such claims of abuse, yesterday's win will stand as Putin's biggest electoral triumph yet, and keep the 65-year-old strongman in power until at least 2024.

Even if the fix was in, it may well have been superfluous. Putin's approval ratingif Russian opinion polls are to be believed — hovers around 80 per cent.

His Russia First-style campaign also appeared to strike a chord with voters, starting with the unveiling of new, supposedly undetectable nuclear weapons, followed by the co-opting of the national celebration of men's Olympic hockey gold. And over the past few days, some stolid denials of Russian involvement in the nerve agent poisoning of a former double agent in the UK, all pushing the narrative of a proud nation under siege from its foreign adversaries.

Donald Trump won the U.S. presidency in 2016 with 46.1 per cent of the popular vote. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

In Putin's first presidential run back in 2000, he captured 53 per cent of the vote. His second campaign, four years later, resulted in a landslide 71 per cent victory. (His protégé, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, received 71.2 per cent of the votes in 2008, when he and Putin swapped jobs to get around the Russian constitution's two consecutive term limit for the president.)

When Putin officially returned to Russia's highest office in 2012, he captured 65 per cent of the vote, despite a souring economy and the presence of four other candidates on the ballot.

To put his run in perspective, Justin Trudeau won a parliamentary majority with just 39.5 per cent of the vote in 2015. Theresa May retained her job as the U.K. prime minister with 42.5 per cent of all ballots in April 2017. And Donald Trump came in second in the popular vote behind Hillary Clinton in the 2016 U.S. contest, with 46.1 per cent to her 48.2 per cent, but won the presidency thanks to the vagaries of the electoral college.

But for Putin, there is still room for improvement. Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's recently deposed dictator, won 85.5 per cent of the vote in 2008. Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbayev captured 95.5 per cent of the ballots in 2011, then improved to 97.7 per cent in 2015, winning his fifth consecutive term as president.

Late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein got 100 per cent of the vote in 2002. (Saade/AP)

And the late Saddam Hussein, something of a perfectionist, went from 99.9 per cent of the vote in a 1995 referendum to an even 100 per cent in 2002.

Putin might even look on in envy at his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.

This weekend, the 64-year-old was unanimously confirmed by the country's parliament for his second five-year term as president, along with a rubber stamp of constitutional changes that pave the way for Xi to rule indefinitely.

President Xi Jinping was recently confirmed as Chinese ruler for life, thereby nullifying the need for elections. (Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press)

All without the bother of actually having to consult the populace.

Quote of the moment

"He's getting at least 10 times as much money as I am for very comparable work… I mean, it's shocking, really."

Tennis great Martina Navratilova's astonished reaction to the revelation that John McEnroe is being paid at least £150,000 for his two weeks work as a Wimbledon commentator by the BBC, compared to her £15,000.

What The National is reading

  • Canadian at centre of Facebook data scandal cut political teeth with Liberals (CBC)
  • Why authoritarian regimes don't last forever (Vox)
  • U.K. and EU agree to Brexit deal basics (CBC)
  • German spy agency: North Korean rockets can hit Europe (DW)
  • What Hope Hicks learned in Washington (New York Magazine)
  • Zimbabwe crowns its first 'Miss Albino' (Africa News)
  • Collector spends $13 for old photo on EBay, finds out it's worth up to $3.7 million (Telegraph)
  • Starbucks unveils type-2 diabetes in a cup (Business Insider)

Today in history

March 19, 1982: Chuck Norris: action vs. violence

Back before he was an internet meme, or even a late-night punchline, Chuck Norris used to make movies. Terrible ones. Here he is on The Bob McLean Show promoting his first major studio release, Silent Rage. Norris played a small-town sheriff battling a psychopath, with Flounder from Animal House as his deputy. It is the 89th-highest grossing martial arts film of all time.

Chuck Norris: action vs. violence

40 years ago
Duration 6:24
The martial arts master promotes his 1982 movie Silent Rage on CBC-TV in 1982.

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Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.