As I stood alongside fellow Canadians for a minute of silence on Nov. 11, marking the 95th anniversary of Armistice Day and the end of the Great War, I could not help but note how we respectfully maintain our appreciation for Canada’s war dead.
We have long been proud of the courage demonstrated by our forebears, and most Canadians of many generations will have had relatives who served or were killed in either of the World Wars or Korea. Most recently, we have had thousands of veterans serve in Afghanistan, as well as deployments in U.N. and NATO-sanctioned missions.
What stands at odds with our rich military traditions, however, is our nation’s curiously warped view of our historical role in "peacekeeping." It is a word used often by those who viewed the War in Afghanistan as a breakaway from our traditional multilateral deployments through U.N. authorization.
It is curious, because our involvement in peacekeeping is barely a generation in memory, and has been the least effective use of our military personnel. Our mission to Rwanda is the worst example of peacekeeping failure, as former Gen. Romeo Dallaire documented the tragic failure of the world to prevent heinous acts of genocide.
In contrast, Canada’s small military contribution to Afghanistan has had long-term benefits to security, the economy and infrastructure building. But although Canadian soldiers were keeping the peace in that country, our government pulled our soldiers out in 2011 following widespread public opposition.
For the record, Canada’s mission in Afghanistan, although not operated under an official U.N. peacekeeping mandate, was conducted under authorization of its Security Council.
In October, this same Security Council called on a U.S.-led military coalition bombing campaign in Iraq to strengthen and expand its efforts to prevent more atrocities perpetrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Earlier that month in Ottawa, both opposition leaders in the House of Commons spoke strongly against Canada’s involvement in the mission. Perhaps pandering to a left-leaning voting bloc, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair said it’s not a U.N. mission, it is a NATO mission. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau suggested Prime Minister Stephen Harper is "sending their fellow citizens into war" without consultation.
It’s sad when politics comes before the importance of international security and humanitarianism.
In January of 1991, while Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government held a majority in the House, then-Liberal leader Jean Chretien played a similar game of politics. He suggested contributing 2,000 soldiers to the Persian Gulf in retaliation to Saddam Hussein’s annexation of Kuwait was a mistake.
â€It is not the time to play with words. Should we have Canadians involved in war, yes or no?" said Chretien. "The reality is, weâ€™re debating war tomorrow, and our answer is no to a war at this moment.â€
It took fellow Liberal John Turner to put partisanship aside and support his political rivals.
â€If the alliance against Iraq were to fall into disarray â€” from good intentions, from walking too many â€˜last milesâ€™ â€” the impact upon the future of the United Nations would be devastating to the future efforts of collective security,â€ he said.
This show of public support forced Chretien, and most of the Liberal Party, to vote for the motion he had spoken against just a week earlier, despite the optics of flip-flopping on an important issue.
It should be noted that Chretien supported every act of force by President Bill Clinton throughout his own stint as prime minister. And if Canadian support for multilateral peacekeeping missions has declined, it began shortly into Chretien’s mandate.
The simple fact is that Canada has a history of standing up for her allies, whether that be the Boer War, the Great War, the Second World War, Korea or Afghanistan. In nearly every instance when we were called upon to help those allies â€“ even when there was no direct threat to our own sovereignty â€“ we took up arms for the cause.
That is the legacy which we should bear in mind during Remembrance Day. We are not peacekeepers. We are peacemakers, because we are willing to fight for the belief everybody on Earth is entitled to the sort of peace we enjoy.
Adrian MacNair is a reporter with the Now Newspaper.