OTTAWA — After years of being denied a federal minister at their annual ceremony in Ottawa, Canada’s peacekeepers came close this year: They could have a parliamentary secretary – as long as organizers wrote his speech.
So they did.
And they inserted a pet policy of their own.
“If you hand someone a loaded gun, you shouldn’t be surprised if they use it,” said Wayne Mac Culloch, national president for the Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping.
Mac Culloch said he invited the three relevant ministers in February, hoping one would commit to the Aug. 10 event.
“The first one to say no was National Defence, followed not long after by Public Safety. I had to prod Veterans Affairs to give me an answer, which I only got two weeks ago. And at that point, they said, ‘No, it’s going to be the parliamentary secretary. And you write his remarks.’”
So unless his office changes the script before then, on Sunday parliamentary secretary for veterans affairs Parm Gill will announce Conservative plans to add a police officer to the iconic peacekeepers’ monument in downtown Ottawa — something Mac Culloch’s members have been requesting for years.
Watching the federal Tories’ ornate combat- and mission-related’ ceremonies has left many peacekeepers — a notable and distinguished part of Canadian history —with a bad taste in their mouths, feeling they are being pushed farther and farther into the shadows, Mac Culloch said.
It’s “pathetic,” says New Democrat defence critic Jack Harris.
“Surveys show Canadians are very proud of Canada’s once-strong reputation for being at the forefront of international peacekeeping efforts,” he said in an interview. “The fact that this government would ignore the efforts of the UN peacekeepers’ association is a shame.”
When Mac Culloch was asked last month to prepare a speech for Veterans Affairs, he was livid at first. Then he saw a silver lining: If he had to write a government speech, he may as well take advantage of the government’s DIY approach.
The peacekeepers’ association has long lobbied to add a fourth figure to downtown Ottawa ‘s striking memorial. It currently features two men and one woman perched atop a stone wall emerging from a series of jagged rocks and sparse vegetation — depicting the stability and calmness peacekeepers help bring to areas of conflict.
While fond of the monument, the association of peacekeeping veterans says it needs one final figure — that of a police officer.
Their requests to the government have mostly been met with dead air, Mac Culloch said. That is, until he wrote its addition into the parliamentary secretary’s speech.
“The three military figures on the monument behind me recognize … the variety of military missions in which our country has participated,” the speech prepared for parliamentary secretary Gill reads. “But there is something missing — a police officer. It gives me great pleasure to announce that the government of Canada is resolved to correct that deficiency by adding a fourth figure.”
As of Thursday afternoon, Mac Culloch said, the minister’s office had thanked him for the speech and given no indication they intended to change it.
Veterans Minister Julian Fantino, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney and National Defence Minister Rob Nicholson all declined interviews.
A spokesman for Blaney said the office will issue a statement on National Peacekeepers’ Day, and noted the minister attended a ceremony in Quebec City in 2012, when he was veterans minister.
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Nicholson’s spokesperson referred questions to Veterans Affairs without any other comment.
Minister Fantino’s spokeswoman offered a statement saying the minister is committed to ensuring all Canadians can pay tribute to all veterans, but didn’t address any specific questions posed of the minister, including why Gill didn’t write his own speech and whether he would deliver the speech as is.
Once upon a time, peacekeepers were a Canadian point of pride. Since 1948, when the first Canadian peacekeepers went to the Middle East, 150,000 Canadians have followed suit. Excluding Afghanistan, 116 military peacekeepers, two RCMP officers and three public servants have lost their lives.
“The numbers may be small compared to world wars, but it’s 100 per cent of what the government has asked for. And they’re the ones who control the numbers,” Mac Culloch said.
For his part, Mac Culloch has done four tours of duty in Bosnia (1994-95, 2000, 2001 and 2003) and one in Haiti (1996). He’s acted as operations officer for 25,010 UN peacekeepers and negotiated disarmament in Bosnia, and helped rebuild Haiti’s national power company.
“Canada has a long and honourable tradition of engagement in peacekeeping activities,” said NDP critic Harris.
Today, he noted, Canada is way down on the list of contributors to international peacekeeping efforts, with fewer than 120 people participating in missions around the world.
“That’s a very, very insignificant contribution for a country that has, in the past, made a very significant contribution to international peace and security.”
© Shaw Media, 2014