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Mission to Mali would be ‘counter-terrorism,’ not peacekeeping, senators say

Canada's Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan arrives for a meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Oct. 26, 2016.

Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP

The federal government needs to focus on post-deployment care for all of its military personnel if Canada joins a "counter-terrorism" peace operation in Africa, a Senate committee is recommending.

The Senate committee on national security and defence has released a report on Canada's upcoming UN deployment, urging the government to focus on training of police and military forces in developing countries, "rather than putting boots on the ground."

However, the Senate committee is well aware there is a strong possibility that Canada's next peacekeeping mission could be located in Mali, where the situation is highly volatile.

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"That has been described as one of the most dangerous peace operations that the UN has been involved in," said senator Daniel Lang, who chairs the committee.

"Canada should be aware of that and the risk that we are taking, and the reality is that it is not a peace operation, it is more of a counter-terrorism operation that we are becoming involved in," Mr. Lang said.

The government announced in August that it will deploy up to 600 soldiers and 150 police officers in "peace and stabilization operations" in Africa, but has yet to reveal the location of the deployment.

The Senate committee's report comes on the heels of a continuing Globe and Mail investigation, which found that at least 71 soldiers and veterans have taken their lives after deploying to Afghanistan.

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To deal with issues of mental health, the Senate committee is calling on the government to provide "sufficient financial and support resources … for women and men who return from dangerous peace support operations, especially those who develop post-traumatic stress disorders." Given that French-speaking troops are expected to shoulder a large portion of the UN effort, the committee said the government should "develop a strategy to better support [their] units and their families."

"We all know that after each mission, there is a strong likelihood of post-traumatic stress disorders," said senator Jean-Guy Dagenais. "It's important to ensure that military personnel are well prepared before they leave, because we can't forget that they will return to their families afterward."

Mr. Dagenais said the Canadian Armed Forces have "taken a number of important steps [to deal with PTSD], but there is always room for improvement."

Senator Mobina Jaffer said it is essential for the Canadian government to launch its mission with a clear end date in sight, as the Dutch have done in Mali. Over all, the committee is calling on the government to bring the next deployment to a vote in Parliament, with detailed information on the cost, the risks involved, and the size and duration of the deployment.

"The [Dutch military] had a very clear exit strategy, and we, as a committee, believe that is very important," Ms. Jaffer said.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan visited Mali and neighbouring Senegal in the fall, and his department earlier sent a reconnaissance team to Mali to scout out a possible peacekeeping mission.

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Mali has endured civil war and terrorist attacks for much of the past five years. Radical Islamist militias won control of northern Mali in 2012, until they were pushed back by French and Malian forces. Terrorist attacks have continued since then, making Mali the deadliest country in the world for United Nations peacekeepers. More than 100 peacekeepers have been killed there since 2013, including more than 30 this year alone.

"Peacekeeping of today is much different from before," Mr. Sajjan recently said. "And that's why we want to make sure that we take our time, to make sure that we get all the necessary information on how we can actually reduce the threat."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

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