01/08/2015 12:38 EST | Updated 03/10/2015 05:59 EDT

How Canadian Police Training Missions Improve Peace and Fight Corruption

Since 1989, thousands of Canadian officers have volunteered in the world's most dangerous countries to train police. It's one of Canada's least recognized international development initiatives and, as Terry Gould puts it, "the last vestige of Canada's blue-helmet heritage."

Kimberlee Reimer via Getty Images

by: Craig and Marc Kielburger

Within minutes of the Haiti earthquake in 2010, Claude Cuillerier risked his life entering collapsed buildings, digging survivors from the rubble with a car jack. Cuillerier is a sergeant in the Montreal police force, and a former volunteer with Canada's police training mission in Haiti.

Since 1989, thousands of Canadian officers like him have volunteered in the world's most dangerous countries to train police. It's one of Canada's least recognized international development initiatives and, as Terry Gould puts it, "the last vestige of Canada's blue-helmet heritage."

Gould, a Vancouver investigative journalist, spent time with Canadian police volunteers in Haiti, Palestine and Afghanistan to research his new book, Worth Dying For: Canada's Police Mission to Train Police in the World's Failing States (Random House Canada, 2014) released last October. Gould has written numerous books on global organized crime and corruption. We recently spoke to him about the impact of Canada's international police training program.

The training program--often referred to simply as CivPol--is run by the RCMP's International Peace Operations Branch. Since 1989, more than 3,500 Canadian police have volunteered for missions in almost 30 countries.

Police training plays a vital, yet often underappreciated role in supporting developing countries--especially ones that have recently experienced conflict."You can't have a civilized society without a civilized police force," Gould asserts.

In building a competent and honest police force, CivPol missions help reduce corruption, improve human rights, and maintain peace.

According to Gould, they teach a community policing approach--the philosophy that police officers are civilians, not soldiers, and that a police force is a community organization responsible to the community, not to corrupt government officials. Alongside this philosophy, CivPol trainers teach practical lessons like how to de-escalate a conflict without violence.

They teach these lessons by example, walking the beat alongside their trainees--even in war zones. In Afghanistan, Canadian officers were the only international police volunteers to conduct patrols outside the safety of protected bases. RCMP Corporal Candice McMackin, for example, taught Afghan officers how to run a traffic checkpoint, knowing full well the next car she stopped could have a suicide bomber.

What makes the Canadian program especially effective is that it doesn't just focus on training a small number of individual police officers. Instead, CivPol establishes police schools in the host countries, creating an institution that can turn out legions of well-trained officers. They teach instructors in the host country to train other instructors on how to train police officers. So one mission might produce 50 instructor trainers, who train 500 instructors, who in turn train 5,000 officers.

The Afghan presidential elections this past April saw far less violence than expected because polling stations were guarded by Canadian-trained police, according to Gould.

Human rights workers told Gould they see big improvements in police behaviour after Canadian training missions. Gould watched with astonishment as a room full of Afghan police colonels--senior officers with little respect for junior ranks, let alone women--praised McMackin's valour and professionalism. In Haiti, Gould says, people call the Canadians officers Canada bombaguy--"Canadian good guys"--and smile whenever they see the officers approach.

The missions aren't without cost, though. Three Canadian officers died in Haiti--two in the earthquake, and one shot by a street gang. Many more have come home from missions wounded physically and psychologically. Officers have even been held hostage and tortured.

Sadly, the Canadian program creating better police forces around the world appears to be fading away. When Gould started his book in 2010, Canada had 220 officers on missions in nine countries. Today there are 90 officers in just two countries--Haiti and Palestine. Gould says it's a result of CivPol's budget being frozen for the past two years.

These officers have brought honour to Canada, and made the world a better place. They are a vital part of our international development work that we must continue.

Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger founded a platform for social change that includes the international charity, Free The Children, the social enterprise, Me to We, and the youth empowerment movement, We Day.