OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government is taking “the appropriate amount of time” to decide where to send hundreds of peacekeepers.
“We have to make sure that it’s the right approach, that it’s the right mission, that they have the right training and equipment,” Trudeau told reporters during an event on Friday.
“We are taking the appropriate amount of time to reflect on how best to engage Canadians in international peacekeeping operations.”
The comments come as some countries say they are growing impatient for an answer – any answer – on whether Canada will send peacekeepers to Mali.
“Just make a decision,” said one Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his country’s relationship with Canada. “Even if it’s a no, we need a decision.”
The UN asked Canada last year to contribute much-needed transport helicopters for its mission in Mali, where roadside bombs and other improvised explosives pose significant dangers to peacekeepers.
When Canada failed to make a decision, said a second Western diplomat, other countries such as Belgium and Germany moved to fill the gap on a short-term basis to buy time for Canada to finalize its plans.
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But the second diplomat said the fact the Liberal government continues to dither has caused concerns and uncertainty about the mission’s future.
“They bought time, so to speak,” the diplomat said of the other countries who have contributed forces. “And we hope they will decide now after assessing all they needed to assess.
“There is a certain expectation that Canada will come back.”
The Liberals pledged last August to contribute up to 600 troops for peacekeeping, after their election promise to steer Canada back to peace missions after years of limited involvement.
They had been leaning toward Mali, where the UN is responsible for stabilizing the country after the central government and Tuareg rebels signed a peace agreement last year.
Canadian military officials and diplomats, as well as Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and other cabinet ministers travelled to the country multiple times.
The Mali commitment was expected to include not only transport helicopters, but also a senior officer to lead the UN peacekeeping mission.
But the government still hasn’t made a decision, despite promising to do so by the end of last year.
Trudeau reaffirmed his belief that Canada has “a strong role to play around the world in promoting peace, security and stability,” but sidestepped questions on whether Canada would deploy to Mali.
“The determination on how exactly and where exactly to engage Canadian Forces is an extremely important one,” he said.
The government must do its due diligence, he added, “any time we’re making a decision about sending the extraordinarily brave women and men of the Canadian Forces potentially into harm’s way.”