Fact Check: Does Canada still contribute to peacekeeping?
A Spanish UN peacekeeper looks to the 'Blue Line' border between Lebanon and Israel in this February 2015 file photo. (AP / Hussein Malla)
Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, September 29, 2015 7:44AM EDT
OTTAWA -- "Canada is still involved in peacekeeping in areas like the Sinai. We still contribute peacekeepers around the world." -- Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, responding to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's suggestion that Canada is out of the peacekeeping business.
As Canada's political leaders slugged it out in a foreign policy debate in Toronto, world leaders meeting in New York pledged to increase the size of United Nations peacekeeping forces by 30,000.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Canada has nothing to contribute to the renewed effort and suggested Canada is largely out of the peacekeeping business, something it helped found in the 1950s.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper disagreed, saying the country is still involved in blue-helmet UN operations.
Spoiler alert: The Canadian Press Baloney Meter is a dispassionate examination of political statements culminating in a ranking of accuracy on a scale of "no baloney" to "full of baloney" (complete methodology below).
This one earns a rating of some baloney. Here's why.
Canada was often the single biggest contributor to UN peacekeeping missions between 1956 and 1992, but the numbers began to decline at the turn of the century and increased sharply in 2005 with onset of the combat mission in Kandahar.
Canada had sent about 80,000 soldiers to UN operations -- about 10 per cent of the total -- by the time UN peacekeepers won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988.
Nostalgia for the days of relatively benign observer missions is a lament of both the Liberals and NDP, who throughout the Afghan war called for Canada to return to its peacekeeping roots.
The sentiment was often echoed in a public opinion surveys conducted by National Defence between 2007 and 2009, at the height of fighting the Taliban.
As the UN General Assembly opened its latest session Monday in New York, more than 50 countries pledged to contribute an additional 30,000 troops and police for missions in trouble spots around the world, including China, which promised 8,000 soldiers and a $1-billion investment.
"The fact Canada has nothing to contribute to that conversation today is disappointing because this is something a Canadian started," said Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
"Right now, there is a need to revitalize, focus and support peacekeeping operations around the world."
In 1995, Canada ranked 6th out of 84 countries in the world in terms of its contributions to peacekeeping missions, with 2,204 soldiers deployed, according to UN statistics.
That rank is now 62 out of 126 countries. Most of the 88 personnel -- 54 -- are police officers assigned to mentoring law enforcement in troubled countries such as Haiti. The rest are soldiers, who usually fulfil a headquarters or staff function.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper pointed to Canada's contribution to the multi-national observer mission in the Sinai as proof Canada was still in the peacekeeping game.
There are approximately 70 Canadian soldiers serving with that mission in El Gorah, Egypt, and it's even commanded by a Canadian, Maj.-Gen. Denis Thompson.
It is, however, not a UN mission and has not been designated as such for 36 years. It is a multinational "alternative peacekeeping" mission set up co-operatively between Israel and Egypt, but facilitated by the U.S.
Canada has shown reluctance to join UN-led missions over the last decade. Notably, it turned down a request to have a Canadian -- retired lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie -- lead forces in the Congo.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
Walter Dorn, a professor at Canadian Forces College in Toronto, says it's a stretch to claim that the country is still involved in peacekeeping, especially since it has not signed up and contributed troops for a UN mission since Eritrea in 2001.
"Our involvement in peacekeeping is at an all-time low," said Dorn, who has written extensively on the subject. "When the UN is at an all-time high in terms of military personnel deployed -- 92,000 -- Canada is at all-time low."
The decline of the country's faith and involvement in blue-helmet operations can be traced to the searing experiences of Somalia and the Balkans in the 1990s, he said.
The scandal over the torture and murder of a Somali teenager and the frustration of being caught in the middle of a shooting war between Serbs and Croats made a deep impression on Canada's political and military leadership that has lasted until this day.
Canadian soldiers were "disgusted with the weak rules of engagement" given to them in the former Yugoslavia, undermining the credibility of the UN, Dorn wrote in a 2007 report published by the Royal Canadian Military Institute.
Dave Perry, of the Global Affairs Institute, said Harper can't be blamed entirely for the move away from peacekeeping because it started with the Liberals, who preferred to deploy troops under a UN mandate but in missions organized by NATO.
He also found Harper's statement suspect.
"We do have people in many places, but 'many' is an elastic concept," Perry said. "There are penny packets, singles and onesies and twoies in a bunch of different places. That ain't what we used to do."
There is room for the next government to do more, especially with a trained conventional army largely sitting at home following Afghanistan, he added.
Even if units are not deployed, experienced commanders could be put to use -- or even transport aircraft and helicopters providing support to multinational operations, Perry added.
While it is true that Canada has a token presence in peacekeeping, a large percentage of that involvement is in police training, with the largest contingent of soldiers not operating under a UN flag.
For that reason, Harper's statement rates "some baloney."
The Baloney Meter is a project of The Canadian Press that examines the level of accuracy in statements made by politicians. Each claim is researched and assigned a rating based on the following scale:
- No baloney --the statement is completely accurate
- A little baloney -- the statement is mostly accurate but more information is required
- Some baloney -- the statement is partly accurate but important details are missing
- A lot of baloney -- the statement is mostly inaccurate but contains elements of truth
- Full of baloney -- the statement is completely inaccurate