Marking the 25th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, a Liberal MP has called his government out for not doing more on peacekeeping as the United Nations is warning it will be forced to curtail its efforts in Mali unless Canada extends its mission there by several months.
While the Trudeau government insists it stands with the UN, Liberal backbencher Rob Oliphant told an all-party press conference that Canada is not pulling its weight.
“Canada’s peacekeeping operations pale in comparison to those offered by many African countries,” said the Toronto MP, who recently visited Rwanda as co-chair of the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association. “When you look at what Ethiopia contributes, what Kenya contributes, what Ghana contributes, what Rwanda contributes, Canada is not pulling its weight.”
The Rwanda genocide unfolded over 100 days starting on April 6, 1994, with Hutu extremists slaughtering 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and their Hutu supporters.
It was a horror that Canadian general Romeo Dallaire, then the commander of UN peacekeepers, was powerless to prevent despite his repeated warnings and pleas for help to UN headquarters in New York.
Even as Oliphant and others on Monday were commemorating that genocide, the questions and concerns were emerging about Canada’s eight in Mali – and the Trudeau government’s commitment to the UN, which has been trying since 2013 to protect civilians and stabilize a government weakened by a rebellion and a subsequent military coup.
Canada has eight helicopters and 250 military personnel in the West African country, where they are scheduled to provide emergency evacuations to injured peacekeepers and workers until July 31. But Romanian replacements aren’t due until mid-October – three months later.
The UN can contract civilian helicopters and aircrews, which the report describes as the “white fleet,” but officials said it would be at “disproportionate expense to the UN” and provide less support than the Canadians do.
“They explained that military helicopters and aircrews can fly at night and can operate in riskier and more dangerous environments than their civilian counterparts because they are armed and use more sophisticated technology,” the report says.
“The committee was told that, in an effort to limit risks to UN personnel, the UN would likely have to scale down operations during the capability gap between the Canadians’ departure from, and the Romanians’ arrival in, Mali,” it continues. “It was explained that, without an aeromedical capability, UN ground troops would have to significantly reduce the range of their patrols, as well as the services they provide in the communities.”
The UN formally requested at the end of February, after months of quiet lobbying, that Canada extend its mission in Mali until mid-October to prevent a gap. But Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland indicated two weeks ago that would not happen.
The government has offered little explanation for its decision, but the committee report suggests military officials are worried about the helicopters’ mechanical condition and want them ready for crises back home.
Conservative defence critic James Bezan said in an interview that Canadian Forces members underscored the challenges that would come with an extension and the impact it would have on the troops and the helicopters.
Liberal and Conservative committee members ended up recommending the government stick with its original timetable and instead work with the Romanians to speed up their arrival.
But NDP defence critic Randall Garrison, who has been pushing for an extension, said the military was clear that it would be able to manage if the government did decide to keep its members in Mali past July – and not staying would put people’s lives at risk.
“If we were talking about an extension of another year or two years, I think those may be valid concerns,” he said. “But nothing we heard in the field confirmed those kinds of concerns would be an obstacle to the short extension that the UN is asking for.”
Both Bezan and Garrison said the fact the Liberals are willing to leave despite the United Nations’ very real concerns raises questions about the government’s self-professed commitment to peacekeeping and the UN.
“They never bought into their own rhetoric,” Bezan said.