Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he isn’t in any hurry to deploy Canadian military personnel to Mali in what has become an increasingly controversial UN peacekeeping mission.
When he first became prime minister, Trudeau proclaimed that “Canada is back” playing an important role in the UN but he appeared to be retreating from that position when he spoke to reporters on Saturday during a Liberal government caucus retreat in Ottawa.
Earlier this month the Canadian Armed Forces issued a “joint doctrine note” that warned the government of inevitable encounters with child soldiers if Canada sent peacekeepers into the Mali civil war zone.
It was the first time that Canada’s military had issued any advice on engaging child soldiers, something the memo declared will induce psychological trauma as soldiers potentially kill children in combat.
“Encounters with child soldiers during operations can have significant psychological impacts for the personnel involved, particularly if those encounters involve engaging armed children,” it said.
Trudeau has not commented on the note but conceivably has read it, given his words yesterday.
“We have a difficult history in Africa as peacekeepers and we need to make sure that when we embark on any mission, military mission, we make the right decisions about what we’re going to do, how we’re going to do it, and the kind of impact we’re going to have on the ground and on Canadians,” Trudeau said.
“And that’s a decision we’re not going too fast track. We’re making it responsibly and thoughtfully.”
That “difficult history” in Africa includes a UN mission to Somalia in 1993 that led to the torture and murder of a Somali youth by members of the Canadian Airborne Regiment. The political firestorm that resulted raged for over a year of investigations and public hearings.
Conservative defense critic James Bezan told The Daily Caller on Sunday that Trudeau will commit to a peacekeeping mission because he wants Canada to get a seat on the UN Security Council.
“His personal political ambitions don’t define what’s in Canada’s national interests when we deploy our troops. There’s no peace to keep in Mali. The UN hasn’t learned from their past mistakes,” Bezan said.
“As Conservatives we question if putting our soldiers under the UN’s bureaucratic chain of command with convoluted rules of engagement dealing with child soldiers, terrorists and militants would put the CAF into another African quagmire. Canadians wouldn’t support it and it would be the brave men and women in uniform who would pay the price,” he said.
Trudeau still wouldn’t rule out a Canadian deployment, but he was careful not to mention Mali even though he has repeatedly specified the country in the past whenever discussing Canada’s supposedly rejuvenated peacekeeping role.
“I wouldn’t draw that conclusion. We continue to look very carefully at ways to move forward on a strong commitment we made on peacekeeping,” Trudeau said.
“We know that Canada has to play a strong and effective (role) on the world stage in ways that suit our capacities and we’re looking to make sure that that happens right.”
Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan, attending the weekend caucus retreat, promised a decision on whether Canada will deploy or not will be coming “as quickly as possible.”
He called any UN deployment “extremely complex” and said it has become an issue with officials at the United Nations, NATO and in Washington.
Sajjan said this is “not the peacekeeping of the past.”
Last August, Trudeau announced that Canada was prepared to send a contingent of 750 peacekeepers to an African mission that was interpreted by all defense analysts as meaning Mali.