The official Opposition is criticizing the Liberal government for not providing a “clear understanding” of the role Canadian troops will play in any peacekeeping missions.
During an address at the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial Thursday in London, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan reiterated Canada’s commitment to peacekeeping, telling attendees that Canada will be a “responsible partner in the world.” Sajjan said that Canada will contribute 600 troops and 150 police officers, but he didn’t say when or where that could happen.
Speaking to reporters outside the conference, Sajjan said that the government is doing its due diligence and that Canadians will be the first to know when a decision is made on which mission the peacekeepers will join.
“If you look at the previous announcements we’ve made as a government, whether it’s been in Iraq or in NATO, it’s about understanding conflict first,” Sajjan said, later adding: “We want to make a meaningful contribution that when we provide something, it’s actually going to have an added impact.”
In late August, the Liberals announced they would be contributing personnel and equipment to peacekeeping operations. In addition, the government pledged $450 million over three years for peace and security projects around the world.
Manitoba MP James Bezan, official Opposition critic for National Defence said the UN conference presented Sajjan with the “perfect opportunity” to answer questions that the Conservatives and “many Canadians” have been asking regarding their peacekeeping plan.
“Before sending any Canadian Armed Forces personnel to war zones, Canadians expect to know when, where and why our troops are being deployed,” Bezan said at a news conference in Ottawa.
The government should also provide the public with mission details such as location, length of time for deployment, and rules of engagement, Bezan said, adding deployment could “place Canadian troops in some of the most dangerous regions in the world, without responding to any pressing needs in Canada’s national interests.”
During the UN conference, Sajjan called “peace support operations” one of Canada’s “most important” endeavours.
“I also want to stress the fact that this will be a whole government effort, not just strictly a military one,” Sajjan said, adding he will be working closely with ministerial colleagues Dion, as well as International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
He said the conflicts he is seeing in regions of Africa are “extremely complex.”
“It is not the conflicts of before,” Sajjan said. “We have radical organizations also in the intermix, in the political strife that’s going on in particular regions.”
Sajjan said the government must be “far more innovative in our approach.
“We need to look at the lessons that our African Union partners have already learned,” he said. “We need to look at our own lessons that we have learned from the different conflicts.”
Sajjan, a seasoned veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, said he “may be new” to politics, but “I’m not a novice to conflict and we need to elevate that conversation.”