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Feds preview peacekeeping plan with money for women's rights abroad

Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, makes an announcement on women, peace and security in Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
November 01, 2017 - 2:31 PM

OTTAWA - The Trudeau government offered a taste of its peacekeeping plan on Wednesday by promising millions in funding for women's rights abroad, even as signs point to an actual mission coming soon.

The money, totalling $17 million, was committed as part of a larger effort to ensure women are better included in peacekeeping as well as conflict prevention and post-war reconciliation.

The announcement included money to help the UN train female police officers, investigate and prosecute sexual crimes in conflict zones and hire a gender adviser for the UN secretary general.

There were also several different specific initiatives in Colombia, Haiti and Mali — all of which have emerged in recent months as potential places where Canadian peacekeepers could be deployed.

Women's rights advocates and foreign aid groups welcomed the commitments, which also included deploying more female Canadian peacekeepers, during an event in Ottawa with four cabinet ministers.

"Where women and girls are included in peace processes, peace is more enduring," Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told the audience.

Yet the government remained vague when it came to the two biggest questions: When and where will Canadian peacekeepers be deployed?

The Liberals promised last year to make up to 600 soldiers and 150 police officers available to UN missions, but since then the number of Canadian peacekeepers in the field has shrunk to its lowest point in decades.

Chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance attended Tuesday morning's cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill, where he was believed to have briefed ministers on several potential mission options.

Those included deploying transport helicopters to Mali, basing a transport aircraft in Uganda to help ferry UN troops and supplies to different parts of Africa and sending helicopters to Haiti, sources said.

The government has also reportedly looked at providing military advisers to different African countries to help local forces become better at peacekeeping.

A senior official insisted that no decision has been made. Instead, Canadian officials are reportedly discussing the options with UN counterparts to determine what is feasible and needed.

The UN and representatives from several peacekeeping countries have made no secret of the fact that their top priority is helicopters for the Mali mission.

But the Liberals balked last year at sending Canadian troops to the West African nation, where dozens of peacekeepers have died since 2013.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who was grilled during an appearance before the Senate on Tuesday about the delay in picking a mission, maintained the government is taking the right amount of time in making a decision.

He also sidestepped questions Wednesday about whether the government's decision to fund women's rights projects in Mali, Haiti and Colombia was a sign that Canadian peacekeepers will end up in those countries.

"While we look at the military role of what they can do, that we also have to keep in mind that this is not just a strictly a military solution and should not just be a military question," Sajjan told reporters.

"We have to be looking at it from a whole-of-government perspective and those are some of the initiatives that have been ongoing."

Still, the clock is ticking, as Canada prepares to host a major peacekeeping summit in Vancouver later this month.

Foreign officials have expressed frustration at the government's foot-dragging and many inside and outside the country have warned that Canada will be embarrassed if the Liberals haven't committed to a mission by then.

"It would be an embarrassment for Canada to host the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial Conference in our city without making any real contributions to peacekeeping," Sen. Mobina Jaffer told Sajjan on Tuesday.

"We cannot afford to keep making promises to re-engage with UN peacekeeping without taking action; the cost of non-participation is too high."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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