Handful of Spanish-speaking troops ‘identified, screened and trained’ for Colombia weeks after Liberal pledge

colombia peace deal

Canada had a small military team on standby to take part in a high-profile United Nations peacekeeping mission in Colombia, but foot-dragging on Ottawa’s part saw other countries fill up the mission’s ranks instead, newly released documents reveal.

The army “identified, screened and trained” 19 Spanish-speaking soldiers to act as ceasefire observers in the South American country, which is emerging from five decades of guerilla war.

The troops were, according to a briefing note prepared for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, ready to go by October 2016 — just weeks after the Liberal government committed itself to deploying 600 troops and 150 police officers in support of UN-led peace operations.

he soldiers remained on standby for months.

A decision to deploy them, however, remained in limbo — until it was too late.

“No [Canadian Armed Forces] nominations were submitted to the UN and, as of March 2017, the mission is currently fully manned with no foreseen additional requirements from Canada,” said the March 30, 2017 briefing note, obtained by CBC News under access to information legislation.

Worries about troop security

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance, the country’s top military commander, said the mission was considered — but he had concerns about how well protected the troops would be in the event of trouble.

He said concerns about force security are “a good reason for everything as to why we do, and do not, do everything the UN asks of us.”

Canada did end up deploying two police officers to support the special political mission in that country.

Ultimately, it would have been up to the federal cabinet to decide whether to participate in the mission.

The UN mission in Colombia was one of the more benign deployments available to Canada in terms of mandate and risk.

A lower-risk mission

Over 450 unarmed soldiers, in 40 locations, acted as observers supervising the disarming of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) — a mission that is more in line with the Canadian public’s perception of peacekeeping.

The mission certainly presents a lower risk to peacekeepers than the tribal, jihadist-fuelled bloodshed in Mali, or the civil war in the corruption-tainted Democratic Republic of Congo — both sites of current UN peacekeeping operations.

Last fall, Trudeau laid out the Liberal government’s roadmap for rejoining peacekeeping, which includes phased deployments of transport planes, helicopters, military trainers and a 200-strong rapid reaction force over a five-year period.

Where they’ll go, and when, is still the subject of discussions.

The federal government also made an important social commitment to deploy more women peacekeepers and to end the exploitation of child soldiers.

Dorn said Canada’s contribution to UN missions is at an all-time low.

At the end of December, Canada had only 43 peacekeepers deployed on various missions.

Source: CBC Canada