The Canadian government is not living up to its promises to re-engage in UN peacekeeping. Evidence shows that it has gone backwards. At the end of September 2020, it was at the lowest level of personnel contribution since 1956.
The air force contribution in Mali in 2018/19 was substantial and valued by the world organization but it lasted only one year. A new means of multi-mission air-transport assistance has been established and extended, which is also commendable, but it is only one C-130 tactical aircraft for several days of UN service a month.
While the Air Force experienced an increased contribution under the Trudeau government, the Canadian army has not. It has not rotated troops in UN peacekeeping since the last century. While it provided seven force commanders for UN missions in the 1990s, none have been provided since. Canada is far behind its contributions of the past, in terms of numbers, leadership and hardship. It has not yet re-engaged in UN peace operations, as promised.
The Trudeau government is providing FEWER peacekeepers than the Harper government did (50% less, averaging over their respective time in office). Maybe with a deployment of the long-promised QRF in the near future, Canada might once again make a strong contributions to the United Nations but will it be sent? Will it be a sustained contribution? The track record of the Trudeau government puts that in doubt.
NATO missions in Iraq and Latvia have clearly been prioritized over UN missions.
Ironically, the same month that Canada hosted a peacekeeping pledging conference (Vancouver, November 2017), the number of Canadian uniformed personnel in UN peacekeeping was lower than at any other point since the creation of the first peacekeeping force in 1956. It decreased even further in the months afterwards (to 40 in May 2018 and then to 34 by end of September 2020). Even with the increase in Mali (July 2018 to August 2019), the average monthly contribution of the Trudeau government since it assumed power in 2015 is still substantially less than that of the previous government: on average, 102 uniformed personnel for the Trudeau government 2015-20 and 157 for the Harper government, 2006-15.
The Mali deployment did not signal a “re-engagement” in UN peace operations since the deployment of the aviation task force was relatively short-term (one year plus one month for the aeromedical component) and was not renewed. As noted, Canada announced on 19 March 2018 that it would provide the UN mission in Mali with an aviation task force of 6 helicopters and an aeromedical team. The deployment came to 8 helicopters after negotiations with UN headquarters. This substantial contribution became fully operational in August 2018 but the commitment was of short duration (less than the countries that preceded Canada). Furthermore, it was not a complete replacement for the German capability that was withdrawn in June 2018 after one-and-a-half years of service. And even with the Mali contribution, Canada’s peak contribution during Trudeau’s terms has been just one-third (roughly) of Canada’s pledged military contribution (up to 600 personnel).
Furthermore, other pledges are not being implemented. The promised Quick Reaction Force is not deploying quickly since it was pledged at the Vancouver ministerial in 2017. There is no deployment date (or place) in sight. Similarly, a new mission for Canadian police contributions has not yet been announced, though the number of police in Mali has increased. During Trudeau’s term, Canada reached the lowest police contribution since 1992 (8 personnel in September 2020). For the promised deployment of C-130 (Hercules) aircraft to Entebbe, a creative proposal to serve multiple UN missions, the UN-Canada MOU took almost two years to negotiate. Though August 2018 was the expected deployment month for the service, the agreement was not reached until a year later. And that service was suspended just as the UN faced the challenges of Ebola and COVID-19. The agreement was extended for another year in August 2020, to the credit of the Canadian government.
With the Air Force making the majority of the UN contribution, the Army has been left in limbo in peacekeeping, having deployed no units to UN operations during Trudeau’s term.
Canada is now doing better on on deploying women in peacekeeping, 24% of deployed Canadian uniformed personnel being women, according to UN stats. But the total number of women deployed has fallen preciptiously in September 2019 after the end of the Mali mission. There are less than half a dozen military women deployed in UN peacekeeping operations.
Defence Minister Sajjan has not shown leadership on the peacekeeping file. In fact, he has made Canada’s fulment of its 2017 Vancouver commitments conditional on the United Nations. Rather fulfilling the promises and offering much needed asssistance to the world organization, in the House of Commons Defence Committee he stated: “Once we have the confidence through the UN that we’ll have four to five nations as a part of it, then we as a government can consider getting into a rotation. … we need to make sure that the mission is right, the troops that we have provided are going to have the right impact, and they will make the decisions accordingly …” (Sajjan, 2020). This is another case of “paralysis by analysis,” where significant opportunities and UN experience are lost as Canada continues to dither and delay in keeping its promises.
The Trudeau government is not “back” and it is certainly not on track to meet its promises. Canada has not re-engaged, though a substantial commitment was made with the one mission in Mali. The rhetoric remains lofty on paper and in speeches but the Canadian government has yet to match its words with deeds. Canada defaulted on its promises and is not leading by example. It has not followed its own advice to the world: “The time for change is now and we must be bold” (Minister Sajjan’s speech to UN Security Council, 28 March 2018, copy).
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