In The Media

Senate committee urges more clarity, caution on a UN deployment

by Tonda MacCharles (feat. David Bercuson)

The Star
November 28, 2016

OTTAWA—A new report is raising serious questions about the risks of deploying Canadian military and police officers to a UN peace operation in Africa, recommending Parliament should have a say on whether it proceeds.

The report issued Monday by the Senate standing committee on national security and defence says the government should seek approval in the Commons and the Senate for a deployment of Canadian military, police and civilian personnel, and only after the government reveals the anticipated cost, the rules of engagement for how Canadian soldiers will defend themselves, the impact on current military operations, a timetable for when an African mission would end, and a clear plan for how soldiers would be counseled after returning from what the report says is certain to be a dangerous mission.

The Star reported Saturday that Mali has emerged as the most likely destination although the Canadian government has not yet announced where it intends to dispatch up to 600 soldiers, 150 police and civilian personnel.

The senate report agreed that Mali is the likely mission, after senators heard weeks of testimony and travelled to New York City for briefings at the UN.

And it demands proper training pre-deployment and support services post-deployment for soldiers and police officers who may develop post-traumatic stress disorders.

Senators say any of the current UN missions in Africa would see Canadians operating in countries where violence and unresolved political, religious and tribal tensions rage. However, it noted Mali has become one of the UN’s most-dangerous missions. UN troops in Mali face “asymmetric threats” and have seen 106 personnel, including 97 military, killed since the UN mission began in 2013.

Several military experts testified before the committee and warned a UN mission is no cakewalk.

“Shortfalls in UN capabilities and imposed constraints in mission mandates must be critically reviewed to ensure that Canada does not run the risk of mission failure or of seeing the diversion of scarce resources for the achievement of only local, tactical and other transient successes,” said Col. (ret’d) Michael Cessford.

David Bercuson, Director of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary, said Canada should focus on NATO and NORAD commitments and not go to Africa “because any mission to just about any of Africa's trouble spots — Mali, the Congo, Central African Republic, South Sudan, to name a few — is a mission to join one of a number of incredibly complex wars, wars way more complex than the one we fought in Afghanistan and none of which show any chance of a peaceful resolution any time soon.”

Conservative Sen. Dan Lang, chair of the committee, said Canada has not yet fulfilled all of its military commitments, including a promise to deploy next year to Latvia in support of NATO operations in the Baltic region.

“Now we’re going into another theatre, so are we taking from Peter to pay Paul?” said Lang in an interview. He said if the government fails to get a majority in both houses of parliament, “Then maybe they shouldn’t go” to Africa.

The federal Liberals have not committed to allowing a vote in Parliament on the decision.

In the Commons on Monday, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said only that he was still getting “all the necessary information” and developing a “whole of government” approach with cabinet colleagues. “The goal is to have this information before the new year and I look forward to sharing all this information with the House and Canadians as well.”

New Democrat leader Tom Mulcair said with a majority in the Commons, the Liberal government would likely win a vote, but he said it’s nevertheless important to allow all members their say.

“I don’t want a deployment in Mali or anywhere else in Africa without a full debate in Parliament. What’s the definition of the mission? What’s its scope? What’s the timeline? What are the strategic goals? Why are we there?” he said Monday.

“Mr. Trudeau…seems to have forgotten what he wanted when he was in opposition now that he’s the Prime Minister.”

The senate committee pointed to a detailed 14-page letter the Dutch government tabled in its parliament on the Mali mission, and urged the federal Liberals to do the same, and provide a “statement of justification” for the mission.

It urged Canada to boost the participation of women in “all aspects of peace support operations; and ensure that Canadian and United Nations personnel deployed receive extensive training related to the women, peace, and security agenda.”

Anticipating the military will draw heavily on francophone units to send to a francophone African nation, senators said the government should develop a strategy to “better support” the soldiers and their families.

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