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In The Media

Canada sending police to Colombia to help with peacekeeping

by Murry Brewster (feat. David Perry)

CBC News
January 10, 2017

Canada will contribute up to 10 police officers to the international effort to demobilize guerilla groups and monitor the ceasefire in Colombia, CBC News has learned.

Some of the officers are expected to be under the United Nations flag, while others would be part of a bilateral deployment, working directly with the South American country's national police force.

The plan, which fits into the Liberal government's overall renewed emphasis on international peacekeeping, was presented to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale last July, according to briefing materials obtained under access to information legislation.

Goodale and Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion signed off, but the timing of the deployment has yet to be determined.

The Liberals' overarching peacekeeping strategy, which is anticipated to involve several locations and the deployment of up to 600 troops and 150 police officers, was widely expected to be announced before Christmas. But it was put off for further discussion and could come up at the cabinet retreat in Calgary later this month.

Mali, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo have been cited as possible locations for a UN mission involving Canadian troops.

Troop deployment overshadows cops

The question of where police might go has received less attention.

The briefing, which was written in mid-July of 2016, makes clear the Colombian deployment would be "resourced" out of the same existing pool of police officers the Liberals will tap into for their UN peacekeeping scheme.

The Colombia mission is expected to last up to March 2019.

In late June 2016, United Nations asked Canada to "contribute an unspecified number of Spanish-speaking police observers" to its contingent of 350 troops and police officers being assembled to monitor the ceasefire between the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). 

But prior to the request, Canadian officials were already dealing with Colombia on a bilateral basis.

Canada was looking for opportunities to contribute to the peace process in the aftermath of the historic ceasefire, which effectively ended a 52-year insurgent war that claimed 220,000 lives.

The observer and disarmament mission would not be without risks, the briefing warned.

"Colombia continues to face significant challenges due to violence associated with guerilla (other than FARC) and paramilitary forces, land mines, organized crime and narco-trafficking groups," said the briefing.

Canada further opened the door to a request from Colombia during the North American Leaders Summit in Ottawa last June. Mexico announced around that time that it was planning to take part in the UN mission and open a peacekeeping training centre.

Old-style peacekeeping

A defence expert says, despite the caution, Colombia would be a benign mission compared with some of the other places the government is considering.

When Canadians think peacekeeping, they often envision ceasefire observers, the kind of mission that rarely exists anymore, said Dave Perry, of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Colombia is "more typical of historical UN operations," said Perry. "There are virtually no circumstances where you'd be sending people to observe a ceasefire by parties that want to stop fighting and put down arms and have an outside body to enforce that."

Sending police peacekeepers to Colombia does not preclude the Trudeau government from sending troops, it just makes less likely, Perry added, citing other military deployments — including missions in Latvia and Iraq.

The Liberals have also clearly telegraphed their intention of putting peacekeepers into West Africa.

According to the briefing, as of last summer there were 82 police officers serving on various international peacekeeping missions, the vast majority of them in Haiti.

But a chart attached to the memo shows that number of positions for missions in Ukraine, Cambodia, Philippines and Iraq remain unfilled.

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