VANCOUVER — The Trudeau government is formally offering helicopters, transport aircraft and a 200-strong rapid-response team of soldiers for UN peacekeeping — though it will be months before Canadians know when and where they will go.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled the planned contributions at a high-level summit Wednesday in Vancouver, including millions of dollars to increase the role of women in peacekeeping.
"What we will do is step up and make the contributions we are uniquely able to provide," Trudeau said.
"We know how to work with other countries and other partners to make peace happen. We have innovative ideas to share, and more importantly, we're willing to put those new ideas into practice. We're also home to the kinds of concrete capabilities that UN peace operations need.
"We can make a difference by matching what we do best with what UN peace operations need most."
The moment marks Canada's most tangible step back into peacekeeping — long the country's traditional military role — since the Liberals promised last year to provide the UN with up to 600 troops and 150 police officers.
But government officials who briefed reporters on background prior to the announcement say Canada and the UN have only just started what could be six to nine months of discussions about when and where those capabilities are needed.
That's because Canada is offering the troops and equipment without dictating where they must go — an approach a senior UN official praised this week for giving the organization more flexibility in filling critical gaps in different missions.
Mali, Golan Heights possible destinations
"We're currently in discussions with the United Nations to work out the details. We have to talk to host nations and identify locations where our capabilities can best fill UN critical capability gaps," one Canadian official said.
"So the exact where and when is going to take a little bit of time to work out."
Added another, speaking on background since the official announcement had yet to take place: "The traditional approach to peacekeeping has focused on where. The emphasis now is on how we're engaged, not where we're engaged."
Officials would not speak to what specific countries are under consideration.
But sources have previously said the talks include possibly sending helicopters to Mali and a rapid response force to provide additional security to the UN mission in the Golan Heights, between Israel and Syria.
The government has also reportedly eyed a contribution to the UN's new police mission in Haiti, and basing a transport plane in Uganda to help ferry troops and equipment to different parts of Africa.
"We're asking peace operations to do more — not only to deal with violence when it erupts, but to respond to the entire life cycle of conflict: preventing its outbreak, supporting complicated peace processes and helping people to rebuild their lives when conflict ends," Trudeau said.
"That is the reality of modern peace operations. Given that reality, we need to try new things."
Contributing $21M to fund to boost women in peacekeeping
Ironically, Trudeau's announcement comes with number of Canadian blue helmets and blue berets in the field having dropped to just 62 last month, a new low from 68 in September. There were 112 Canadian peacekeepers deployed when the Liberals made their original promise in August 2016.
Canada is also offering a total of $21 million to help increase the number of women in peacekeeping, including $6 million to help with reforms at the UN and $15 million for a new trust fund.
The fund is intended to help partner together countries with good female representation in the ranks with those that want to have more women in uniform, but are facing challenges.
The officials emphasized that such partnerships would only involve countries that are genuinely interested and willing to having more women in their militaries.
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The new emphasis on women in peacekeeping and military operations comes amid growing international recognition of the real operational benefits that come from female soldiers in the field.
Canada will also make dozens of trainers available to the UN and other countries to help professionalize militaries from developing countries that are often involved in peacekeeping.
Some of those trainers will be deployed to UN centres in Africa, such as Kenya, Ghana and Uganda. But officials say up to 50 could also be sent to other countries, and may even deploy on missions with their students.
That would only occur, however, when the safety of Canadian troops can be ensured, officials said.