The number of Canadian police officers on UN missions has reached its lowest point in more than a decade despite a shortage of such personnel on many peacekeeping operations and a Liberal promise to address it.
New figures from the United Nations show there were 15 Canadian police officers participating in peacekeeping missions at the end of November, all of them based in Haiti.
That was the smallest number since at least 2005, according to Walter Dorn, a peacekeeping expert at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto, who has been tracking the statistics.
The shrinking presence comes despite the fact many UN missions are short hundreds of police officers, who are considered essential for building long-term peace and stability in troubled countries.
That includes the peacekeeping mission in Mali, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Saturday and where Canada previously promised to deploy up to 20 police officers – none of whom has yet arrived.
Canada’s small contribution is also in defiance of the Trudeau government’s promise in August 2016 to provide up to 150 police officers to peace operations around the world.
There were 84 police officers on UN missions when that promise was made.
Canada does have police officers working on non-UN missions in other parts of the world, including 17 in Ukraine, five in Iraq and three in the West Bank, which the government has said it is counting toward its commitment.
But Dorn and others have accused the Liberals of not living up to the spirit of their original pledge. And even with those non-UN contributions, Canada remains far short of the government’s original promise.
“It’s really unfortunate that Canada hasn’t lived up to its pledge and provided police for new missions,” Dorn said in an interview on Monday. “There’s really no reason for all this dithering and delay because there’s a big need out there.”
UN officials have emphasized the growing importance of police officers to peacekeeping, saying they are better able to interact with civilians than military forces are and work with local police to re-establish the rule of law.
“The continuous development of the national police is of critical importance to ensure that first and foremost, we do not have countries in conflict,” Atul Khare, UN undersecretary general for field support, said in June. “And if we have countries in conflict, we can bring them out of the conflict and ensure that there is no relapse.”
The UN underscored the need for more police ahead of last year’s peacekeeping summit in Vancouver, stating: “The growing importance of UN police needs to be matched with appropriate adequately resourced capabilities.”
Female police officers and ones who speak French are needed especially badly, according to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ latest needs assessment published in September.
Canada is in a good position to provide both given its previous experience, Dorn said, especially with large numbers of Canadian police officers having previously served in Haiti.
“We’ve come down to our lowest point this century of police officers in peacekeeping and this is an area where Canada has some really valuable contributions to make,” he said. “We can provide women and police who are Francophone in countries where they are needed.”