Speech: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau


Opening Plenary

Major-General Tammy Harris: Our final speaker today perhaps needs no introduction but I will tell you he is a committed advocate of the United Nations, a promoter of youth and gender issues. He is a strong believer in multilateralism and in the value of working together to address the challenges and conflicts affecting many across the globe. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a warm welcome for the Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau.


Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau: Thank you Major General, not just for your help today but for your many years of exceptional service marked by so many firsts, the first Canadian woman to command an RCAF Wing, the first to command a major Canadian armed forces base and most recently the first to serve as deputy commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Thanks to your leadership and I'm going to borrow your own words here, I can confidently say that someday there won't just be firsts. There will be sixths and sevenths and eighths. You truly are an awesome woman with rank. We will miss you in your retirement but there can be no doubt that it has been extremely well earned. Thank you, merci.


Thank you and welcome to all of you here today, welcome to Vancouver, a place I truly do consider a second home. You know, for most Canadians peacekeeping has become rooted in a kind of nostalgia. Canada was a great peacekeeping nation once so we should try to do that again today. But I'd like to spend my time with you instead focusing not on where we've been or even where we are now but on where we are going.

I'm looking at the very real challenges that modern peace operations face and at how we and in particular Canada can best respond. Peace operations are important for us not only because they enable us to help millions of vulnerable people affected by conflict, but also because a more peaceful world is also a safer world for Canadians.

Frankly, though, things have changed in the 70 years since Canada helped to put together the first peacekeeping operation in response to the Suez Crisis. At the time, peacekeeping operations literally consisted in ensuring peacekeeping, standing between two warring nations and contributing to the implementation of an agreement.

Well, times have changed. Now all too often there is no peace to keep. The conflicts we face today are intractable, more dangerous, more complex. Modern peace operations take place in a context that transcends borders and includes a challenging range of actors: fragile and failing states, militia groups, non-state actors, organized criminals and now of course terrorists. The sad truth is that as often as not UN peace operations are now in themselves targets.

At the same time we are asking peace operations to do more, not only to deal with violence when it erupts but to respond to the entire life cycle of conflict, preventing its outbreak, supporting complicate peace processes and helping people rebuild their lives when conflict ends. Peace operations also serve as the first and sometimes the only line of protection for vulnerable people facing extreme violence and persecution, all in the most difficult environments.

That is the reality of modern peace operations. Given that reality we need to try new things. We can't turn to the same solutions we've always tried and expect new results. The other reality, as everyone in this room knows, is that UN peacekeeping operations do not always meet our great expectations: protecting the most vulnerable, rebuilding failing states. These are enormous tasks.

We cannot protect human rights and human lives effectively enough and, in the worst cases, we need to admit it, we even help to worsen these problems. When the people we’ve tasked with protecting become exploiters, when the people we’ve deployed around the world to help build peace instead perpetuate aggression, we’ve failed.

We can and we must do better. Today's mandates are difficult and they are complex. We ask a lot of the women and men who serve in our peace operations and we don’t give them the tools they need to succeed. These are the challenges we're up against and Canada has been thinking hard about how we can best respond. I'm going to be really straight with you here. Six hundred Canadian Armed Forces personnel is significant for Canada as a commitment but let's remember there are close to 100,000peacekeepers deployed around the world.

We have to focus on how Canada can best help. What we will do is step up and make the contributions we are uniquely able to provide. We know how to work with other countries and other partners to make peace happen. We have innovative ideas to share and more importantly we're willing to put those new ideas into practice. We’re also home to the kinds of concrete capabilities that UN peace operations need.

We can make a difference by matching what we do best with what UN peace operations need most. We'll make that difference in four ways. First, by signing onto the Vancouver principles we are committing to take real and immediate steps toward sending the recruitment and use of child soldiers in the context of UN peace operations. I am pleased to share that more than 53 countries have already joined us in this commitment.

In keeping with these principles, if a child faces a soldier on a battlefield, we’ve already failed. We need to do more at the outset to prevent this from happening. This requires surveillance, reporting, a more effective response when we pick up early signs that vulnerable children may have been recruited and have faced violence.

This means that each mission has to have the necessary know-how to negotiate the release, recovery and rehabilitation of child soldiers. Together we can ensure that children remain children and don’t become weapons of war. At the same time we need our soldiers in the field to be prepared. Picture it for a moment. You're a peacekeeper on patrol and you are suddenly confronted with a wide eyed seven year old pointing an AK47 at you and shouting.

First of all we've already failed. What should have been done in the past hours, weeks or months before to prevent this moment from happening and in the moment what do you do. How do you protect the women and men with you? How do you take action? Do you take action? What do you do in this situation, operational and finally how do you deal with the after effects, the nightmares that will surely come from whatever impossible choice you made or didn't make in that split second you had to decide.

These are the questions that Roméo Dallaire has spent the last decades trying to answer and leading on. We the signatories to the principles will give our people the training they need so they can understand the unique risks and dangers that child soldiers pose. We will give them guidance on how to best avoid confronting children but also the rules of engagement so they can protect themselves and others.

We will make sure they get that training before they deploy on any peace operation. Canada has some experience with this. In March, the Canadian Armed Forces released official military doctrine concerning child soldiers. We have adopted this measure because we know that a commitment to putting an end to recruiting and using child soldiers is also a commitment to our own citizens.

It’s impossible to deal with a child in a war context without being changed forever. Those who serve in UN peace operations are strong and courageous and capable but they are also human and they need to know that we will have their back. These Vancouver principles ensure that we will give them the mental health support they need as they recover and heal from all the wounds of war including the ones we can’t see.

These are difficult and painful challenges and no-one knows this better or has worked harder to drive this agenda forward than General Dallaire. For his tireless efforts in bringing forward the Vancouver principles and for his ongoing work to improve the lives of children and peace workers around the world, we owe him a tremendous debt. Roméo, my general, thank you for all you have done and continue to do. Merci.


Second, Canada will take responsibility for ensuring that women play a greater role in peace operations. The facts are as follows. When women and girls take part in the peace process, peace is more sustainable. The participation of women in the peace process increases by 35% the probability that a peace accord will last for at least 15 years.

Women bring a unique and valuable perspective to conflict resolution. They look beyond the interests of warring parties. They bring the wider community to the table and they focus on root causes. Including women and girls in peace operations is a smart practical pathway to lasting peace. It is also a necessary step in addressing a truly global problem. Approximately one in three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence.

Even worse, gender based violence increases significantly in conflict settings. We also know that both women and men are more likely to report incidents of violence to women officers. Women are more likely to understand the risks and dangers that all members of a community face and we can expect women peacekeepers to be a powerful force for the elimination of sexual exploitation and abuse.

This is why so many of us here today are working hard to increase the participation of women in United Nations peacekeeping operations. Back in 2015 the Security Council set some ambitious targets on that front. It wanted to double the number of women in military and police peace keeping contingents by 2020. Unfortunately at the current rate it would take another 37 years to achieve the goal we originally hoped to reach in five.

We must do better. That is why as a second priority Canada intends to launch the Elsie Initiative on women in peace operations. Named after World War Two Canadian engineer and women's rights pioneer Elsie McGill Canada will use the Elsie initiative as an opportunity to work with the United Nations, other member states and true contributing countries to develop and test new ways to recruit, train and promote more women in UN peace operations including in senior and leadership positions.

For our part Canada is working hard to increase the number of women who serve in our armed forces and we are equally committed to increasing the number of women we deploy as part of UN peace operations. Increasing the numbers and qualifications of women deployed in UN peace operations won't happen overnight because for many women there are significant obstacles to their participation including institutional and attitudinal barriers in the countries where peace operations take place.

We are confident that a lot can happen a lot faster with the kind of specialized technical assistance Canada is prepared to provide. It can also happen a lot faster if we provide additional resources. Two years ago the Security Council and several high profile UN reviews called for the creation of a fund to help encourage the deployment of more women to peace operations. Canada is prepared to take the first step. We will make lead contribution of $15 million to help get the Elsie Initiative up and running.

Third, Canada will also seek more opportunities to share its world-class training capabilities. We have know-how that others need. It’s heard-earned know-how we acquired in Afghanistan and Iraq, in the most difficult operational environments. There, we worked side by side with our partners from other nations who wanted to rebuild their country.

Those difficult experiences challenged us and proved that Canadian training leads to greater professionalism and effectiveness. We will continue to offer training assistance to meet ongoing UN needs. This would include small mobile training teams offering specialized training in the field with training tailored to situational needs from medical and communications training to sexual and gender based violence investigation and counter IED training.

We will also establish a Canadian training and advisory team. This team would help to train peace operations personnel from another country, work with them to improve skills and professionalism and provide them with the equipment they need to train safely and properly. Then if circumstances warrant it Canadian trainers could accompany those same personnel during a deployment to help track progress and ensure greater success.

By working more closely with these units, by being a part of their development from initial training to actual deployment we can help build broader capacity for UN peace operations and deliver better results for everyone. That brings us to the fourth part of Canada’s commitment, our commitment to the smart pledge approach. The way things work now a mission is identified and then the call goes out to see who can help and how and when. Too often mission planners are left with a gap between the significant commitments countries are willing to make and what's actually needed in conflict zones around the world.

Smart pledges will help to close that gap by better aligning what is offered with what is needed, by identifying up front when and how we can help and by making sure we get the right equipment and expertise into the right places at the right times, we can collectively ensure that every UN mission has what it needs to succeed from beginning to end. It’s a new approach, an innovative approach.

Canada is ready to take the lead. Thanks to our capabilities, to our specialized know-how, we can play a key role to make missions on the ground more effective, support peace processes, consolidate post-conflict peacebuilding and improve training provided for other participating countries.

We can also improve the overall management of peace operations by enhancing the ability of the UN’s senior leaders to provide leadership and guidance from headquarters. These are core capabilities that UN missions need to succeed that go right to the heart of effective peace operations. As you know Canada has pledged to make available up to 600 Canadian Armed Forces personnel for possible deployment to a variety of UN peace operations and we are fulfilling that commitment over time through a series of smart pledges.

This is the best way for Canada to help and it offers the greatest chance of success. As one of Canada's first commitments we have entered into negotiations with the United Nations and plan to contribute a much needed tactical airlift to be located at the United Nations regional service center at Entebbe UAganda. There we will play a critical role in helping to get what is needed to where it's needed.

A C-130 aircraft from Canada will be deployed with support and force protection personnel for up to a year to provide UN peacekeeping operations in Africa with what they need to accomplish their work in some of the most difficult conditions.

Whether we’re called up to transport forces, construction materials or medical supplies, this deployment will provide much-needed support for missions in a region of the world where, because of the extent of the conflicts, logistics and the delivery of equipment are a constant challenge.

We are offering as a smart pledge a quick reaction force comprised of a company of elite personnel and accompanying equipment capable of responding rapidly to threats such as those against UN positions and observation posts and to respond to the chronic shortage of helicopter detachments we are offering up to two aviation taskforces as smart pledges as well. These contributions of armed and utility helicopters along with support and security personnel will help support troop transport, medical evacuation and other logistical needs.

We are making all these pledges today because we believe in the United Nations and we believe in peacekeeping. The nature of conflict has changed, and so have the needs of peace operations. Isolated and piecemeal commitments have led us to where we are today, but real major and profound change is impossible without a true institutional change. Canada is prepared to help lead that charge, to rethink how we engage, not just where we engage, to close the institutional gaps that prevent us from being even more effective agents of peace in world that sorely needs it.

That's how we'll protect the world's children, empower women and girls and build a more peaceful and a more prosperous world. As Lester Pearson who we celebrate 60 years since winning the Nobel Peace Prize, a medal that is on display here today, as he once said "of all our dreams today there is none more important or so hard to realize than that of peace in the world."

May we never lose our faith in it or our resolve to do everything that can be done to convert it one day into reality. Modern peace operations bring with them some of the biggest challenges, the toughest decisions and the most heartbreaking consequences of anything we do but our commitment to the effort endures because we believe in peacekeeping.

We have seen its power to transform and we know there is no greater gift we can leave our children and grandchildren than true and lasting peace. Let's be bold. Let us innovate. Let us try new things. Let us be the change we need to build a more peaceful world together. Thank you very much.

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