Deployment of Canadian peacekeepers to Haiti a 'small but positive' gesture to UN
Canada's decision to send 34 troops to join an international peacekeeping mission in Haiti represents an olive branch in Ottawa’s sometimes thorny relationship with the United Nations, says one former diplomat.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced the deployment on Wednesday, saying the troops will serve as peacekeepers with a Brazilian battalion.
They will deploy on June 21 and remain in the impoverished country until December 2013, MacKay said.
Paul Heinbecker, a former Canadian ambassador to the UN, said the contribution is small compared to the thousands of UN troops already serving as peacekeepers in Haiti. But he told CTV's Canada AM that the gesture will be appreciated.
"I think this is a gesture that is positive and helpful and will be seen positively, although 34 soldiers isn't going to change a 6,000-person mission very much," Heinbecker said.
He said Canada ranks 53rd in terms of its commitment to UN peacekeeping initiatives, and will move up to 51st after the Friday deployment. The UN currently has 15 missions underway, comprising more than 100,000 troops from around the world.
"It's not a major contribution either to UN peacekeeping or to Haiti, but it's a welcome one," Heinbecker said.
Canada's relationship with the UN has been somewhat tense in recent years. Last November, the UN upgraded the Palestinians from non-member observer entity, to non-member observer state.
Canada voted against the move, and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird visited the UN's New York headquarters in December, where he said Canada couldn't support an initiative that would undermine efforts to achieve lasting peace in the region.
Canada also temporarily recalled its diplomats from Israel and the West Bank, and from UN headquarters in both New York and Geneva, in protest.
And last spring, Ottawa reacted angrily when a United Nations official said too many Canadians are allowed to go hungry.
"Canada has long been seen as a land of plenty. Yet today one in 10 families with a child under six is unable to meet their daily food needs," Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, said in a statement. "These rates of food insecurity are unacceptable, and it is time for Canada to adopt a national right to food strategy."
De Schutter spend over a week-and-a-half in Canada researching his report -- time that Baird said could have been better spent doing other things.
"There are, what, 193 members of the UN? I think most Canadians would think that spending 11 days in Canada on this issue -- his time would be better spent elsewhere," Baird said at the time.
De Schutter also complained in a newspaper interview that while he was in Canada, no federal cabinet ministers agreed to meet with him.
After those remarks, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq did meet with De Schutter, but later said she found him to be an "ill-informed, patronizing academic" studying Canada's aboriginal people "from afar."