Trudeau and UN chief Ban Ki-moon to talk climate, refugees, peacekeeping

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks with reporters in Davos, Switzerland on Friday, Jan. 22, 2016.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks with reporters in Davos, Switzerland on Friday, Jan. 22, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

OTTAWA – UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrives for talks in Ottawa on Thursday as part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s efforts to reinvigorate Canada’s relationship with the world body.

Ban’s visit will also take him to Montreal, but his Thursday meetings with the prime minister will underline a key foreign policy priority for the new Liberal government, closer ties with the UN.

“He represents a very important institution,” said Trudeau spokesman Cameron Ahmad.

Trudeau wants Canada to play a larger role in the world’s multilateral institutions and the UN is the largest and, at times, the most controversial.

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The prime minister has criticized the Harper government for diminishing Canada’s role at the UN and he has stressed the need to work more closely with the world body.

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Harper and his ministers engaged the UN on some files, including the maternal, newborn child health initiative, which the Liberals have pledged to carry on. But the Tories were not shy about criticizing the UN for being ineffective, especially when it came to the Syrian civil war.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion will participate in an expanded portion of the meeting.

Ban and Trudeau are expected to discuss climate change, gender equality and women’s rights, the Syrian refugee crisis and the potential for Canada to contribute more to UN peacekeeping.

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The prime minister wants to increase Canada’s contributions to peacekeeping missions, which have fallen to a few dozen troops in recent years from a high of several thousand in the mid-1990s.

But that topic is now imbued with controversy because of a scandal that erupted last year over what has been described as rampant sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic.

French peacekeepers have faced allegations of child sex abuse involving boys as young as nine.

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A pair of prominent Canadians played major roles in helping the UN deal with the crisis.

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“They will likely discuss how Canada can contribute to the UN’s efforts to curb sexual abuse by peacekeepers,” said Ahmad.

Stephen Lewis, a former Canadian ambassador to the UN, has been highly critical of Ban for not taking concrete steps to address the systemic problems at the root of the problem.

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Lewis is one of the leaders of an international coalition that calls for the creation of an independent management board to oversee UN peacekeeping.

The group wants Ban to lift the blanket immunity that protects UN diplomats because many of them have been aware of peacekeeping abuses, but have done little to stop them.

In December, retired Supreme Court of Canada justice Marie Deschamps co-wrote a report that accused the UN of a “gross institutional failure” in its response to the abuse allegations.

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Lewis has urged Trudeau to play a leading role in stamping out the abuse.

On Monday, Ban appointed a special adviser to curb what the UN describes as a “scourge.”

Despite Trudeau’s desire for Canadians to do more peacekeeping, a recent report by the Rideau Institute and the Centre for Policy Alternatives said the Canadian Forces no longer have the skills for such missions after spending the better part of the last decade focusing on counter-insurgency in Afghanistan.

Trudeau and Ban will also meet a teenaged audience at an Ottawa high school to discuss the importance of building diverse societies to promote peace and broad economic growth.

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