The Canadian Peacekeeping Monument in Ottawa. | DND Photo IS2002-2010a by Master Corporal Frank Hudec, Canadian Forces Combat Camera
For all the furor and outrage over federal MP for Simcoe–Grey Kellie Leitch’s proposal to screen immigrants for anti-Canadian values, I notice there is no shortage of rhetoric on the subject when debating Canada’s return to a leadership role in UN peacekeeping.
A Department of National Defence Website, for example, states in its introduction, ‘‘Peacekeeping represents a defining aspect of Canadian identity, reflecting fundamental values, beliefs and interests.”
This is a fairly typical comment as Canada’s traditions and values are often pointed to as being characteristics that make our nation ideally suited for the role of peacekeeper. So there must be identifiable traditions and values of which we are proud, even if it offends our sensibilities to insist newcomers adopt them.
But I digress.
At a recent peacekeeping conference in England, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced his government plans to deploy up to 600 soldiers and 150 police officers as UN peacekeepers. Also, the Liberal government will allocate $450-million to support peace projects.
Combined with our prime minister’s musings on the subject, this suggests Canada is back in the peacekeeping business and plans to take a leadership role in future UN projects. As if to emphasize this, Canada will host a peacekeeping summit next year.
“Supporting and encouraging peace is certainly part of what it means to be Canada,” Sajjan reportedly told an international audience at the London summit. Hmm, there’s that values thing again…
The Conservative opposition attacked the plan immediately, preferring it seems that Canada chooses peacemaking missions over peacekeeping ones. Defence critic James Bezan pointed to participation in the war against Daesh (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) as an example of a peacemaking mission.
So again Canadians are being asked to make a binary choice: either we support peacekeeping, the Liberal choice, or we support peacemaking, the choice of the Tories.
Clearly, though, there is a third option: engage in both types of military missions simultaneously. We have the finest small army in the world and a effective air force capable of small missions of either sort. And our facility in both are proven with an excellent track record.
Many progressives would like Canadians to believe our tradition is really in peacekeeping, and that the peacemaking stuff came only since Stephen Harper became prime minister in 2006. That, of course, isn’t the case.
Canada was at war in Afghanistan in 2002. Before that, Canadian forces faced combat in the Balkans, where 23 Canadians lost their lives in the various missions and more were injured. Some of these were peacekeeping, but others involved Canadians in firefights. In 1990 Canada joined several others countries in the Gulf War, in response to Iraq’s invasion and annexation of Kuwait. And, of course, there was Canada’s significant contribution to Korean War in 1950, in which 516 Canadians died, 312 of which were from combat. So in the half-century preceding Harper’s first term, Canada had already been involved in a fair amount of combat.
Moreover, even before Stephen Harper took office in 2006, Canada had ceased to be a leader among peacekeeping nations, although the Grits would like us to believe otherwise. By 2006—after ten years of Liberal rule—based on its commitment of personnel to UN peacekeeping, Canada ranked only 55 out of a total of 108 countries.
In other words, Canada’s well-earned reputation for peacekeeping in the Lester B. Pearson tradition was already a bit tarnished, and a fading memory at that.
Canada’s peacekeeping mission to Somalia became a national scandal—the Somalia Affair—when eight Canadian soldiers faced court martial for torture, assault and murder of Somali civilians, four of whom were convicted. We’ll all remember too that during the Canadian-led peacekeeping mission to Rwanda in 1993/94, a massacre lasting for 100 days led to the murder of 800,000 people. This is well chronicled in the book, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire.
In any event, Defence Minister Sajjan himself acknowledges the lines between the two types of military missions has become blurred. This is what he told CTV’s Power Play host Don Martin:
This is not the peacekeeping of the past. There is no peace to keep in some cases and where there is peace, it is extremely fragile.”
So perhaps we need a different name for these missions. And we certainly need to toss out the silly political rhetoric with which we embellish the virtues of each option. In our modern world, keeping warring sides apart is sometimes necessary and always dangerous. And as an important member of the international community, we have an obligation to contribute human and other resources to make the world a safer place.
The Liberals in Ottawa have been disingenuous in stressing the difference between peacekeeping and peacemaking so that they could differentiate themselves from Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, even going to the extent of pulling back on our combat role in the bombing mission against Daesh in Iraq and Syria.
Our CF-18s conducted 251 airstrikes during which they dropped 606 bombs. Those bombs destroyed 267 ISIL fighting positions, 102 vehicles or other pieces of equipment, and 30 improvised explosive device factories or storage facilities.
Our fighter jets could still be flying there and adding to their contribution to a mission that virtually every democratic country believes is a necessary, righteous and just war. PM Trudeau could simply have simultaneously tripled the number of Canadian special forces in the north of Iraq and provided humanitarian aid and training to Kurdish forces fighting Daesh without withdrawing from bombing mission.
Trudeau’s mission and the Harper’s mission were never mutually exclusive. Trudeau was just too petty to continue any mission that had started under Harper. Had the Tories sent only non-combatants and trainers to Iraq, Trudeau would have added the six CF-18s once he took office. And, even now that PM Trudeau stands unopposed—in any practical sense—he insists on doubling down on perpetuating the myth that Canada is first and foremost peacekeepers and non-combatants.
Crass politics, folks… crass politics as only Grits can practice it.
When Jean Chrétien—the last Liberal politician to do so—sent our army into Afghanistan, the Canadian troops wore bright green camouflage, which poorly suited Kandahar’s brown landscape. Moreover, our soldiers were forced to drive around in jeeps unsuited for a modern war zone. They lacked helicopters for rapid deployment or evacuation of troops and were without strategic airlift capability. They didn’t even have heavily armored personnel carriers or tanks to provide some protection from deadly IEDs.
Those missing necessities were, for the most part, added under the Harper government. But, of course, Harper is gone now. So let’s pray that, unlike the Chrétien crew, these Liberals will have greater respect for the military women and men they deploy abroad, and that they’ll equip them appropriately.