Harjit Sajjan: Canada Will Host Peacekeeping Summit Next Year

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OTTAWA — Canada will host a peacekeeping summit next year, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced Thursday, even as the Conservatives accused the government of using Canadian troops as "pawns" in a bid for a UN Security Council seat.

Sajjan made the announcement at this year's summit in London, where defence ministers from around the world gathered to pledge their support for peacekeeping and discuss the challenges of such missions.

harjit sajjan
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan speaks during the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial meeting at Lancaster House, in London on Sept. 8, 2016. (Photo: Stefan Rousseau/AP)

"Supporting and encouraging peace is certainly part of what it means to be Canada," Sajjan told his counterparts.

"For that reason, I am pleased to announce today that Canada will host this defence ministerial conference next year. We truly look forward to continuing this important work with you."

The minister also reaffirmed Canada's pledge to make up to 600 troops and 150 police officers available for future peace operations, with a particular focus on protecting civilians.

"The women and men of our military are well trained and prepared to offer a range of capabilities," Sajjan said.

"Supporting and encouraging peace is certainly part of what it means to be Canada."

"We will work to defend and protect the most helpless civilians in wartorn areas, especially women and children, who bear the brunt of human rights abuses in conflicts."

He stopped short, however, of saying where those troops would go. That has become the central question, though the front-runner appears to be the UN's most dangerous peacekeeping mission, Mali, where more than 100 blue berets have died since 2013.

'We shouldn't be using our troops as pawns'

Meanwhile, in a press conference in Ottawa, Conservative defence critic James Bezan accused the Liberals of re-engaging with peacekeeping simply to fulfil Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's desire to win a seat on the UN Security Council.

"That to me is politics, and we shouldn't be using our troops as pawns," he said. "Politically motivated decisions for aspirations of the prime minister makes for bad defence policy."

Bezan said Canadian troops should only be deployed into war zones when it is the national interest.

He also expressed concerns about a repeat of Rwanda or Bosnia, saying the UN hasn't proven that it can effectively manage peacekeeping missions.

"The myth that peacekeeping operations can work has been proven false," he said. "The last 15 years, our success has been in peacemaking, not peacekeeping."