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Canada’s peacekeeping plan not politically motivated, top soldier says

General Jonathan Vance speaks during a news conference in Ottawa on Aug. 30, 2016.

FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The country's top soldier is pushing back against suggestions the Liberal government wants to use Canadian troops for political purposes by deploying them on United Nations peacekeeping missions.

The opposition Conservatives accused the Liberals this week of treating the military like "pawns" by promising to support peacekeeping operations in exchange for a UN Security Council seat.

The Liberal government has promised up to 600 troops for future peacekeeping operations, as well as 150 police officers and $450-million for peace support operations.

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But chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance said Wednesday that Canadian troops will be deployed as peacekeepers for no other reason than to help bring peace and stability to another part of the world.

"I reject the notion that this is done simply for political reasons and putting troops in harm's way into risky areas for anything other than the true merits of the value of the use of military force," he said.

Vance told the Senate defence committee that his staff members are looking at various UN mission options to see where Canada could best contribute. The government still has not decided on a specific mission, he added.

Vance wouldn't say which missions the government is currently considering, but he acknowledged that many – if not all – carry some degree of risk. He said he wouldn't advise Canada participate in a mission with unnecessary or unmanageable risk.

"But a risky mission that has great potential of success may be a mission that you want to invest in," he said. "And the military, we do risk. We're good at that, if we can mitigate it."

Some have worried that Canadian peacekeepers could be put into a no-win situation, or bound by endless UN bureaucracy that might tie their hands or otherwise put them at risk, such as in previous missions in Rwanda and Bosnia.

Vance said UN commanders might give Canadian troops specific tasks, but he would "never" let the UN have the last word on when or how Canadian peacekeepers could act. He said he is the one who writes the rules of engagement for Canadian troops, which would continue with a peacekeeping mission.

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"I never relinquish Canadian command of those troops," he said. "We have learned a lot since the days of Bosnia and Rwanda and elsewhere. And one of those is you're never out from under Canadian command."

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