2nd Session, 41st Parliament,

Volume 149, Issue 67

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Central African Republic—United Nations Mission

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: My question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. David Stewart from my home city of Vancouver, British Columbia, submitted this question to the Liberal Senate Forum, and I ask it on his behalf. I would like to quote his words directly:

There is an ethno-religious cleansing occurring right now in Central African Republic. Whether or not it qualifies as genocide is entirely inconsequential. The facts are simple: for months and months, the violence has been brutal, savage, and relentless. Many have been slaughtered. Armed militias have recruited thousands of children as soldiers and sex slaves. Schools across the country remain closed, nourishment is scarce, and preventable diseases run rampant. As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, one cannot help but recognize the many similarities between the two crises. In 1994, Canada refused the request made by the UN Secretary General to send further reinforcements — ultimately abandoning General Roméo Dallaire and his small contingent of soldiers. Given that there is no strategic benefit to intervention (geopolitical or otherwise), the response of the international community has been minimal. There are no surprises here; this remote region of Africa has been neglected for more than a century. However, Canada is uniquely positioned to play a pivotal role in averting what is likely to develop into a mass atrocity. Our voice is respected, and seen as largely neutral. We belong to La francophonie without the colonial history. Our troops are highly qualified; we have the necessary skills and equipment. And we have the experience. Despite this, as it stands now, Canada has failed to make more than a token contribution. Simply put, humanitarian aid is not going to stop the killings and disarm the militias. Peacekeeping efforts need to be ramped up considerably. There are currently 8,000 soldiers on the ground, which, on a per capita basis, pales in comparison to the number of peacekeepers sent to Bosnia and Kosovo. The UN has estimated that it requires a minimum of 12,000 soldiers in order to adequately fulfill its mandate. Canada has the capability to narrow this gap significantly. Have we already forgotten the lessons of Rwanda? We made an explicit promise — `Never Again’. Inaction is entirely immoral, and will likely have devastating consequences. We cannot remain indifferent; we have a responsibility to protect. So, I ask of the Leader of the Government in the Senate: Is our government prepared to defend our country’s peacekeeping legacy and abide by the world’s moral code by contributing much needed soldiers to the UN mission in Central African Republic?

So the question he has is: Is our government prepared to defend our country’s peacekeeping legacy and abide by the world’s moral code by contributing much-needed soldiers to the UN mission in the Central African Republic?

[Translation]

Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Government): I wasn’t sure anymore whether we were on Senators’ Statements or Question Period. As I have said a number of times, Canada is deeply concerned about the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic and about reports of people being targeted because of their religion

Over the past two years, Canada has provided over $23 million to help meet the widespread humanitarian need and $5 million to support efforts by the African Union and France to restore security in the country. Canada is the ninth-largest donor to the UN peacekeeping budget, and it supports the efforts of the United Nations, France and the African Union in this crisis.

As I have already said in response to this question, Canada will continue to closely monitor the situation in the Central African Republic and remains very concerned about what is currently going on in that country.

As for the question specifically on soldiers, as a government we have a responsibility and an obligation to carefully consider our options together with our allies and to make decisions that are in the interest of Canadians. We will continue to provide humanitarian and development assistance to the Central African Republic in order to address the growing humanitarian crisis in that country.

[English]

Senator Jaffer: Leader, last week, I had the honour to hear the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees speak at the lecture series at the delegation centre of the Aga Khan Foundation Canada Delegation. The High Commissioner said that he has been to many conflict areas in the world while he has been the High Commissioner for Refugees. He has never seen the situation as bad as it is in the Central African Republic.

Leader, we have sent our peacekeepers to many regions where the situation is dire. As you heard from the questioner, humanitarian aid will not stop the killing. Are we going to be involved in this La francophonie country, or are we going to sit back and see this tragedy continue?

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: Senator, as I said, through the United Nations, Canada is working with its allies to address the deepening crisis in the Central African Republic. Once again, our government is very serious about its obligations to Canadians, our soldiers and their families, and we will not send troops into a dangerous situation without carefully evaluating the issue and our options. That’s what Canadians expect from a responsible government.

Canada continues to do its part. Once again, we have provided over $23 million in assistance to help meet the widespread humanitarian need in the Central African Republic and $5 million to support efforts by the African Union and France to restore security in the country.

[English]

Senator Jaffer: Leader, I am very disappointed in the answer you’ve given that we will look after Canadian interests. The last time I checked, the last time I heard from Canadians, Canadians didn’t say that Canadian interests stopped at our boundaries. Canadians are proud of their peacekeeping history and proud of being there to protect people around the world.

Leader, I want to hear from you: Have we forgotten our history of being peacekeepers? Are we now only offering protection within our boundaries?

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: I think that Canada’s efforts are continuing in the tradition of Canadian aid from the beginning and that Canada’s involvement should be highlighted. I think you should highlight this significant humanitarian support. As you know, we support the UN and its peacekeeping force. We are the ninth-largest donor country, and we will continue to support the efforts of the United Nations, France and the African Union in this matter.

[English]

Hon. Joan Fraser (Deputy Leader of the Opposition): This will not take long. The leader’s answers remind me of the occasion when I think it might have been Churchill listened to comparable remarks from a minister and said, “The government is obviously very concerned — deeply concerned — concerned enough to take all possible steps, short of actual action.”

(1410)

Leader, this is actually a question I’d like you to take as notice and provide a statistical answer: How many peacekeeping troops has Canada assigned abroad since 2006?

Senator Mercer: You don’t have to take that as notice; it’s easy.

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: I imagine your research services are not as good as they used to be since that spat with your friends on the other side. I will take your question as notice and provide you with a response.

Hon. Roméo Antonius Dallaire: I’m wondering if you should be joking about such a serious issue. You probably feel that your job is simply to give an easy answer. I’m not going to go so far as to use the word “insulting,” but that falls far short of what your role should be. We don’t find it funny that thousands of people are dying and we could be doing something about it.

Today you said that the government decided that it wouldn’t send any Canadian troops through the UN for this mission. It took a few tries, but that’s what you said. That means that military personnel advised the government that we shouldn’t invest our resources in this mission, which is the sort of mission we committed to when we accepted the responsibility to protect.

Right now, out of 109,000 peacekeepers, Canada has 43. We aren’t ranked ninth among countries that are contributing financially, we are ranked 175th. We’re closing in on a decade of abandonment. Your government has abandoned the United Nations and peacekeeping.

Are you able to tell us whether the Department of National Defence recommended that the government not get involved in the Central African Republic?

Senator Carignan: First, I would like to point out that everyone is familiar with my jokes and my sense of humour. I was talking about research services, not peacekeepers.

Second, I would ask you to be careful in your comments because you are one of the people who have criticized my answers the most in this chamber. I have always tried to be as respectful as possible in my answers, and I don’t think you can reproach me for being disrespectful.

Finally, I want to repeat what I said so that you do not take my words out of context or draw the wrong conclusions. I will therefore repeat the exact words I used: We will not send troops into a dangerous situation without carefully evaluating the issue and our options. That’s what Canadians expect from a responsible government.

That is my answer.

[English]

Senator Dallaire: There’s an old army expression: If you can’t take a joke, don’t join.

I return to the question at hand. In the assessment that the Canadian government is taking in regard to the deployment of our forces to reinforce the UN’s specific request for Canadian capabilities to be the backbone of that mission versus the ex-colonial power, did the government receive specific military analysis as to our capability of deploying and utilizing forces in that mission?

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: Senator, you know full well that I cannot answer questions on security, but I want to reiterate that we will not send troops into a dangerous situation without carefully evaluating the issue and our options. I imagine that you are able to understand why this type of analysis is needed.

Senator Dallaire: I have one final supplementary question. Are you able to tell us what options the government is currently studying? You have said this a number of times. Can we, as parliamentarians, know the options that the Canadian government is studying?

Senator Carignan: I think I have already indicated the various actions that have been taken and can be taken in this matter. I believe I have been clear about the funding for humanitarian needs, the funding to support efforts by the African Union and France to restore security in the country and the funding for the UN peacekeeping budget to support the efforts of the UN.

When I say that we will not send troops into a dangerous situation without carefully studying and evaluating the issue, I think that gives you an idea of the fairly broad range of options examined.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *