Canada Day was, as always, an occasion to reflect on what it means to be Canadian. For many, that is support for the multicultural mosaic, a warm welcome for newcomers, openness to the world and a willingness to help out. This and more is reflected in Canada’s proud tradition of peacekeeping. One of Prime Minister Trudeau’s first steps was to announce that ‘Canada is back’ as an active, contributing member of the international community, including in the area of peacekeeping.
Canada hosted the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial conference in November 2017 and has been championing the Vancouver Principles on Peacekeeping and the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers and the Elsie Initiative on Women in Peace Operations. It has committed funding to peacekeeper training initiatives and specialist skills in different areas to modernizing peace operations.
In March 2018, Canada responded to a United Nations request and announced it would send an aviation task force to Mali for a period of 12 months. The task force will include up to 250 troops, two Chinook helicopters to provide transport and logistics capacity and four Griffon helicopters to provide armed escort and protection. It is replacing a German contingent that has been flying transport and medical evacuation missions in Mali. The first members of the mission landed in Mali on June 24 to prepare for the full deployment.
Critics have argued that the peacekeeping mission in Mali is the most dangerous one in the world, that there is no peace to keep as multiple armed factions are at war, and that the security situation is deteriorating with a string of attacks on State representatives, UN peacekeepers and international forces. They also point to dangers related to the weather, dust, child soldiers and difficulties in separating peacekeeping from the French-led G5 Sahel counter-terrorism operations.
In keeping with its mandate to provide Canadian decision-makers with insights into Canadian ethnic media responses, MIREMS kept an eye on recent discussions of the first step in the deployment process. Over a week, MIREMS consultants found 17 stories on the Canadian deployment of the advance team to Gao in Northern Mali. Most reports were in the Chinese high-circulation daily newspapers and television news from Toronto and Vancouver, which followed mainstream reporting and limited themselves to reporting the facts on the overall Canadian mission and the arrival of the advance contingent.
Other reports were found in the Russian, Ukrainian, Arabic and South Asian media. The Kyiv-based Ukrainian Ukrinform was more candid on the risks of the mission, citing an interview of UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres with CBC News who admitted that Mali is currently a ‘war zone’ and that Canada needs to be prepared to suffer losses. He said even in very peaceful places, soldiers are killed in road accidents, diseases, and so on, and Mali is a dangerous environment where peacekeepers can be attacked.
Two reports in the Torontonian Russian Week and Russian Canadian Info used more neutral language to describe the deployment, with a hopeful note on Canada having “entered a new era of peacekeeping,” but also a caution that “service in Mali can be very dangerous”.
The Urdu paper Jang Canada in Toronto also highlighted the risks of the mission: “Canadian troops started to take up their position in the world's most dangerous peacekeeping mission as a dozen Forces members flew into an isolated United Nations base to begin work on Canada's year-long commitment to help bring peace and stability to the strife-riven African nation.” The article also highlighted the red dust that covered the German convoy meeting the Canadians and that seemed to be everywhere.
A report in the Montreal-based Arabic weekly paper Al Akhbar gave details of the mission and the advance contingent. It noted that “the Canadian troops' mission is part of the world’s most dangerous peacekeeping mission” and highlighted the casualties sustained by the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA to date. The article also reflected that this “is the first peacekeeping operation in which the Canadian armed forces are involved in Africa since its participation in the UN peacekeeping operation in Rwanda, which failed to prevent the genocide in which about 800,000 people died”.
Three articles from Punjabi, Urdu and Filipino sources focused on Canadian efforts to include women in peacekeeping contingents. The Punjabi radio station Red FM in Calgary reported that the Canadian deployment “falls slightly short of the United Nations goal in terms of the participation of women.” The UN goal is 15% female participation and the Canadian contingent will have 14% women.
The Filipino website Atin Ito in Mississauga also reported that the gender ratio falls short of the 15% goal, but quoted Defence Minister Sajjan as saying that the numbers will improve once other peacekeeping commitments make it to the field. The article also quoted Peggy Mason, president of the research and advocacy organization Rideau Institute, who said that she did not want to downplay the Mali contribution, but that Canada’s overall approach to renewed peacekeeping has been too piecemeal and too tepid.
The Toronto weekly Urdu Khabarnama reported that “more female participation in the gritty, often dangerous work of rebuilding shattered nations is a signature ambition of both the UN Security Council and the Liberal government—which has gone to great lengths to promote what's known as the Elsie Initiative”.
With nearly 23 percent of Canadians speaking a mother tongue other than English and French in 2016—a percentage that is increasing every year—an understanding of the different perspectives and priorities of different language groups helps decision-makers in government, business and NGOs formulate their messaging and communications strategies, avoid pitfalls and strengthen the glue that holds the Canadian mosaic together.
Written by Silke Reichrath