OTTAWA – The Harper government has quietly considered a proposal to contribute more peacekeepers to the UN stabilization mission in Haiti in a goodwill gesture aimed at Brazil.
The emerging economic power in South America is the biggest contributor to the international military force in the hard-pressed Caribbean nation.
Ottawa and Brasilia have discussed the idea of embedding a Canadian platoon of soldiers in an existing Brazilian unit, as well as deploying additional Canadian troops to help with headquarters and logistics, according a set of internal Defence Department briefings.
The initial contribution plan, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, calls for a force of 50 Canadian soldiers.
“The security situation has improved since 2010, but still remains fragile,” said a Jan. 6, 2012, briefing for Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
The proposal has been floating around National Defence headquarters for almost two years, but has yet to receive the blessing of the federal cabinet despite — according to the documents — the backing MacKay and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
A spokesman for Foreign Affairs said Canada has a “long-standing relationship with Haiti that reflects the strong ties between our peoples.” But Joshua Zanin added it would be inappropriate to speculate on a future military mission.
There are roughly 8,800 international troops in Haiti and an additional 1,200 police officers conducting training under the UN flag. After sending a battalion of the Royal 22e Regiment to deliver humanitarian relief in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, the Canadian presence was scaled back to 141 police officers, 25 corrections officers and five military staff officers.
The army has long had a detailed plan for the new deployment.
Defence sources said contributing to the Brazilian military mission was an off-shoot of high-level discussions between the two armies, and made sense in several ways.
“Modest in size and scope, this force package would directly contribute to Government of Canada (GoC) priorities without impacting on our current operations,” said a Oct. 7, 2011, planning note prepared for Lt.-Gen. Peter Devlin, commander of the army.
“Generally Canada and Canadians are viewed positively in Haiti. Canada’s significant investments in Haiti since 2004, including following the 2010 earthquake, have overall been well viewed by Haitians. The CF was also well received by Haitians in Leogane and Jacmel during Operation HESTIA in 2010.”
The UN has scaled back the size of the security force in Haiti, which has been there since the 2004 exile of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. It has helped maintain order in a country still struggling to find its economic footing.
Brazil has long carried most of the weight of the deployments.
“Brazil currently makes the largest contribution … where it provides the Force Commander and 2,190 troops, and has been the largest troop contributing nation since 2004,” said the briefing to MacKay.
“Brazil recently announced that in 2012 it will cut its commitment by 257 troops, which is in line with the overall reductions to military contributions … and the end of surge contributions post-earthquake.”
Defence expert Rob Huebert of the University of Calgary said contributing to the UN mission in Haiti would likely be well received by the Canadian public following the trauma of the war in Afghanistan, and given the political accolades that flowed in the aftermath of Ottawa’s swift response to the earthquake.
But he said the Conservatives must avoid the temptation to commit the country to “niche” diplomacy, the way the Liberals did in the 1990s, by accepting a series of piecemeal missions.
“It basically exhausts your troops,” said Huebert. “You’re all over the place. You create this mythology that you’re doing all these great things when in fact what you’re doing is being a placeholder. It takes away from your ability to have a concentration of effort when in fact you need that concentration.”
The new deployment appears as though it would be a multi-year commitment because the army’s detailed planning called for six-month rotations.
MacKay announced Thursday the Canadian military commitment to Kosovo would be extended.
Eight Canadians serve in a variety of staff roles with the NATO force that is assisting in the development of the Kosovo’s security services.