Over Africa – Canada's new UN Peace Mission

20 March 2018

The Honourable Harjit Sajjan, Minister of National Defence, and the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced Canada new peacekeeping mission in Ottawa on March 19th. It has taken 2 years and a Vancouver summit to get to this point of making a commitment for Canada to reenter peacekeeping.

While it remains unclear when the Canadian Forces will actually deploy, another big question is what does peacekeeping look like now that the traditional role is no longer possible in this new age of multiple non-state actors in any given conflict. One concession to this new reality is a change of name from "Peacekeeping" to the more flexible "Peace Operations."
Some press reported that “aviation troops” will be deployed to Mali to support rotary wing aircraft operations as part of a larger United Nations mission which is known Aviation Task Force to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) for a period of 12 months.
MINUSMA is a specialized mission and well suited to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). The Aviation Task Force will include Chinook helicopters to provide urgently needed transport and logistics capacity for the mission, as well as Griffon helicopters to provide armed escort and protection. The Task Force will be accompanied by a number of Canadian Armed Forces personnel for support. The RCAF has evolved its training and doctrine after Afghanistan to deliver this robust air power capability in a third world country.
At a UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial Conference last November in Vancouver, the Government of Canada announced its "return" to peace operations, including:

  • the Vancouver Principles – focused on ending the recruitment and use of child soldiers around the world;
  • the Elsie Initiative – a pilot project aimed at rapidly increasing the number of women police and military deployed on UN peace operations, supported by the expertise and political commitment of a group of countries who share Canada’s ambition for change; and
  • a range of Smart Pledges and military capabilities – aimed at leveraging Canadian expertise. The first smart pledge – a C-130 Hercules aircraft to provide tactical airlift support for the UN’s Regional Support Centre in Entebbe Uganda – was announced in Vancouver and preparations for deployment are currently underway.

In the coming days, the Government will register its pledge with the UN, and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) will begin their planning process, in conjunction with the UN, partners and the host nation.
Canada’s role in peacekeeping can be traced back to an extraordinary Canadian, Mike Pearson – an External Affairs Minister, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Prime Minister, and a World War 1 aviator with the United Kingdom’s Royal Flying Corps (Canada did not have an Air Force at the time). Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's maternal grandfather, Jimmy Sinclair, was a World War 2 fighter pilot in the RCAF, Minister of Fisheries, and flew fighters in North Africa as a member of Parliament for Vancouver North. The soon-to-be-deployed airmen and women have some big boots to fill. Canada and the world will be watching. They will do Canada proud.
Canada’s Chinook helicopter has a powerful lift capacity and can fly a variety of missions in support of UN operations. A key component is the need for ongoing aircraft maintenance in the field. This is a key element of Canada’s mission. These maintainer skills were used during forest fire fighting this past summer and arctic operations in remote locations in a complex mission environment with very limited infrastructure.
Conservative Member of Parliament Lisa Raitt has voiced concern about the risk to our warriors posed by this mission, but the RCAF trains hard and has learned to fight smart.

As global violence in complex political and threat environments has evolved, war fighting skills have become necessary in United Nations peace making operations. Make no mistake, this is a combat mission.

Canada is no stranger to Africa. As the planning unfolds, the risks will become clear and should be provided on a transparent basis for all Canadians to understand. Prime Minister Pearson clearly understand that if Canada is to play on the world stage it must take risks. It is good to see Canada is back. It might be fitting to call this CAF and RCAF formation Task Force Pearson.

– K. Joseph Spears is a Principal at Horseshoe Bay Marine Group
Ocean House (Pacific) joe.hbmg2@gmail.co