Many people closely tie International Peacekeeping with Canadian history and identity. More than 125,000 Canadians have served in United Nations peace operations across the world since its inception over 70 years ago.
In 1956, the UN needed to respond to the Suez Crisis (a week-long conflict in Egypt) with the newly formed United Nations Emergency Force to supervise the withdrawal of invading forces. While Canada could not directly participate in this first mission (no nations from any major alliance could), it was Lester Pearson, future Canadian Prime Minister, who first suggested the idea of a neutral force to help observe peace processes.
Let’s take a small look at some of the peacekeeping missions Canada has taken part in across the world:
In the years following World War 2, Egypt would gain its full independence from the British and French. However, due to the Suez Canal being a critical waterway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, it would become a hotspot for international conflict for decades to come.
Canada, along with many other UN forces, would take part in a number of missions in the region from 1956 to 1979. Canadian contributions in these missions were mainly logistical operations like transportation, communication, supply, and health support for other UN forces.
Thanks to the Camp David Accords, lasting peace would be achieved in the region, and the UN missions came to an end in 1979. Canadian Forces would later return as part of the Multinational Force and Observers presence put in place in 1982 to support the treaty.
More than 150 UN troops died in Egyptian peace efforts, including more than 50 Canadians.
After widespread civil war and famine engulfed the nation in the early 1990s, the country became dominated by rival clans and local warlords.
From 1992 to 1995, the United nation formed peacekeeping missions to help bring stability to the region. While the overall efforts could not end the conflict in the area, Canada did take part in many relief efforts, allowing foreign aid to reach those in desperate need of it.
Canada would participate in escorting famine relief convoys, the removal of land mines, and the collection and destruction of thousands of confiscated weapons. Over 1,400 Canadians would serve in Somalia, dealing with dry, dusty, and hot temperatures (over 50 degrees), Yellow Fever and Malaria, venomous scorpions and snakes, and hostile fire.
After the assassination of President Juvenal Habyarimana, Civil war broke out in Rwanda leading to one of the worst genocides of the 20th century. Over a 100-day period in 1994, over 800,000 Rwandan citizens would be killed.
Due to the strict rules of engagement, Canadian peacekeepers were limited when it came to getting directly involved when they saw new violence, causing tremendous stress which many carried with them when they returned home.
Even with their hands tied, peacekeepers still worked to save as many people as they could and provide humanitarian aid to those in need of it. Our troops would share their rations with hungry children, help set up local orphanages, and risk their lives to transport people from danger zones to safer places.
Though the world has never been thrown into turmoil by another worldwide war, conflicts across the globe still see countless Canadians putting themselves in harm’s way for the benefit of others and the greater good.
Related News: World War I: A small look at Canadian contributions
The bravery and selflessness of our Canadian peacekeepers help ensure that many, who would otherwise be engulfed in strife, are given a chance at a life of peace.
For more information about Peacekeeping and the many peace support operations Canada has taken part in, click here.
Featured image: Angus Reid Institute via angusreid.org