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Canada’s Role in International Peacekeeping

Peacekeepers are civilians, police, and military personnel who serve under the United Nations in order to maintain peace and order in countries around the world. They are sent to countries where war exists and help to de-escalate situations by promoting the rule of law and human rights. Peacekeepers are set apart from the military by wearing a distinct blue beret, which represents the United Nations’ blue flag. While military groups engage in active conflict, peacekeepers use a different strategy, making it a priority to protect civilians and mitigate conflict by facilitating discussions between local groups. In addition, they help to create and ratify local peace agreements between stakeholders.

Canada has had an important and historic role in international peacekeeping. Prior to becoming Prime Minister, Lester Pearson had a critical role in the establishment of the United Nations, including its peacekeeping force. Since the establishment of peacekeeping, Canada has been involved in “almost all UN and NATO peacekeeping missions,” and 125,000 Canadian Armed Forces members have served in dozens of international peace missions in more than 35 countries. During these peacekeeping missions, approximately 130 Canadians have died, while many more have suffered from a physical and mental injury or trauma.

Canada’s historic and critical role in international peacekeeping was solidified during the 1954 Suez Crisis, when Canada played an important leadership role in the deployment of the UN’s first emergency force. Pearson encouraged a peaceful resolution and worked to avoid further military conflict, for which he later received a Nobel Peace Prize.

In recent decades, Canada’s involvement in peacekeeping has changed substantially. The shift from “supervising ceasefires and separating combatants to actually enforcing the peace” has resulted in a decline in Canadian participation in peacekeeping missions. Higher casualty rates coupled with a number of scandals (and subsequent inquiries) involving the Canadian peacekeepers that have diminished Canada’s reputation in peacekeeping. During the Harper government in the late 2000s there was an increased focus in foreign policy on the needs of Canada, resulting in a lack of attention paid to peacekeeping operations. More recently, there have been some election promises on the part of the Trudeau government to revive Canada’s role in peacekeeping, but there has been little action. Canada does remain involved in international peacekeeping operations, but in a less prominent role than in the past.

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Contributors: Grace Friesen, Laeba Khan, Jahdae Simon, and Raksana Vijayathasan,