By: Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
WARSAW, Poland — The Trudeau government says Canada is still in the market for a United Nations peacekeeping mission despite plans to send a sizeable military contingent to Eastern Europe.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis at the NATO leaders' summit in Warsaw on Saturday to discuss plans for Canada to send 450 soldiers to the Baltic state. The Canadians will form the "nucleus" of a larger NATO force in response to concerns about Russia.
Trudeau and Vejonis exchanged pleasantries before the Latvian president offered to organize a hockey game between Canadian and Latvian soldiers. "You might regret that. We're quite good," Trudeau laughed in reply, before adding: "But I know you are too."
Joking aside, the deployment along with plans to continue operating a naval frigate in the region and send fighter jets on an occasional basis, represents the largest military commitment to Europe for Canada in more than a decade, Trudeau said. At the same time, Canada has hundreds of military trainers in Ukraine and Iraq.
"It's terribly unfortunate that Canada has to deploy its forces in Latvia instead of having peacekeeping in Africa or in an area of the world where it's much more needed," Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion told the Canadian Press on the sidelines of the summit Saturday.
"But we need to do so. We need to do so because Russia had a completely unacceptable behaviour, regarding especially Ukraine."
Yet both Dion and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the Liberal government is intent on finding a peacekeeping mission for Canada. Sajjan said Canada can't just respond to crises but must look at situations where it can help reduce or prevent conflict.
"We are receiving requests from everywhere," Dion added. "If we are saying yes to everybody, we'd have a big problem. We'll need to be very selective and to choose the way where Canada will have value added within the coalitions in which we are."
Sajjan the Canadian military has the resources to participate in a peacekeeping mission while also deploying forces to Europe and Iraq.