By BRUCE CAMPION-SMITH, Toronto Star
OTTAWA—An announcement on the deployment of Canadian soldiers on an overseas peace mission has been postponed until after the holidays as Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says the government wants to take the time to “get this right.”
Sajjan said the decision — originally expected before Christmas — is taking time because of the complexity in organizing a mission that involves more than just the Defence Department but foreign affairs and development, too.
“This is a whole-of-government effort in terms of where we’re going to be doing peace operations,” he told reporters on Parliament Hill Tuesday.
“A lot of work has been done. But you know, there’s still work that needs to be done in terms of making sure that we co-ordinate and synchronize our efforts within as a government, and also within international partners as well,” Sajjan said.
The Liberal government is weighing options for the deployment of up to 600 soldiers and 150 police officers.
The Star has reported that the Canadian mission is likely headed to Mali in West Africa, where French forces and a United Nations mission are already on the ground. That mission ranks as the most deadly for the UN as peacekeepers have found themselves targeted by insurgent fighters.
“We want to make sure that we get this right. It’s a very big decision as a country when we send troops anywhere in the world. I also want to make sure that we can have the right impact,” Sajjan said.
In the Commons Tuesday, Conservative MPs pressed the Liberals to follow the example of the Dutch government, which presented its Parliament with a detailed outline of its proposed mission to Mali in 2013.
The 14-page letter given to Dutch lawmakers outlined the strategy, cost, risks, goals and challenges for that mission.
In a recent report, the Senate defence committee cited the Dutch letter and said the federal government should table a “statement of justification” containing similar facts about the upcoming Canadian mission.
On Tuesday, that call was echoed by Conservative MPs, who pressed the Liberals to be forthcoming about the deployment.
“In the Netherlands the government is open and transparent about missions of this nature. A letter explaining the minute details of the mission are shared with Parliament, and there is a debate,” said Pierre Paul-Hus.
“Will the Liberals commit to as much transparency,” said the Conservative MP (Charlesbourg — Haute-Saint-Charles).
James Bezan (Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman) demanded to know whether the Liberals will submit the proposed deployment to Parliament for debate and vote. In his response, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion didn’t rule it out.
“It is a very serious decision. The government is considering it very seriously. We are working with our allies to see in which way Canada will fulfill its responsibility for peace in the world, and we are also considering in which way we will engage Parliament about it,” Dion told MPs.