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Sajjan avoids elaboration on peacekeeping pledges ahead of B.C. conference

Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan, center, speaks with U.S. top commander in Afghanistan US Army General John Nicholson during a round table meeting of NATO defense ministers and Resolute Support operational partner nations at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017.

Virginia Mayo/AP

Canada's Defence Minister says he's more interested in discussing peacekeeping innovation than pledges of troops as representatives of 80 countries prepare to attend an international conference in Vancouver next week at which Canada is expected to finally disclose its peacekeeping plans.

In a conference call with media on Thursday, Harjit Sajjan sidestepped a question about what pledges of peacekeepers Canada might make next week, instead touting a conversation "beyond pledges" of support to deal with global hot spots.

"Pledges are absolutely important. How we do things is equally important," Mr. Sajjan said from Brussels where he attended a NATO defence ministers' meeting.

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Mr. Sajjan said he was hoping for a conversation, in Vancouver, about such issues as equipment and the role of women and business in peacekeeping. "I am looking forward to having great discussions about the innovations that Canada can bring to the table," he said.

Asked for elaboration on Mr. Sajjan's remarks, his press secretary, Jordan Owens, said in a statement that, "We look forward to having more to say soon."

Since coming to power in 2015, the federal Liberal government has promised to make 600 soldiers available for peace operations, but put off a decision on where they would be deployed. There was some discussion about sending soldiers to Mali in West Africa where a 10,000-strong UN force, established for a peacekeeping mission launched in 2013, is dealing with an insurgency that began a year earlier.

But the issue appears to be coming to a head next week as Canada hosts the 2017 United Nations Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial. Pressure will be high at the gathering for Ottawa to make its plans known.

Observers say it is overdue for Canada to disclose its peacekeeping commitments.

Lloyd Axworthy, foreign affairs minister under former prime minister Jean Chrétien, said in a statement Thursday that there are "increasing expectations" on when Canada's initiative will be announced. "Vancouver is obviously the place to make clear the Canadian plan."

Mr. Axworthy said Canada should take the lead in refugee protection. In particular, he mentioned Mali, Congo and Central African Republic. "My own priority is for a Canadian force that is trained to be a protector of refugees, displaced persons and migrants who face threat and risk from predator governments or extremist war-lord groups."

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Walter Dorn, a peacekeeping expert at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto, was even more pointed during a Thursday interview.

"Canada, as a host [of the UN meeting], has an obligation to lead by example," said Mr. Dorn, who is an employee of the Department of National Defence, but belongs to a teaching bargaining unit that gives him the academic freedom to speak candidly.

Mr. Dorn, who says Canada's contribution to peacekeeping is at its lowest level since at least 1990, said the country's lack of action may erode its international credibility.

"We've seen the Canadian government dithering on this subject for one to two years and now that the ministerial is coming, it's really time to show that Canada is serious about its commitments."

Questions about Canada's peacekeeping commitments come as federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer on Thursday delivered a speech urging Canada to take a leadership role in a UN peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine.

Mr. Sajjan said that Petro Poroshenko, President of Ukraine, raised the peacekeeping idea in 2015; Russian President Vladimir Putin had, more recently, proposed his own vision of a peacekeeping mission, one that Canada opposes.

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"We have cautious optimism moving forward," said Mr. Sajjan."We need to bring stability for Ukraine and its people."

The Trudeau government announced $17-million in funding for women’s rights abroad as part of a peacekeeping plan The Canadian Press
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