Canada to send more women soldiers to conflict zones to help tackle gender issues Ottawa previews priorities of looming peace mission with pledge to step up efforts to help “where women are most vulnerable.” The Trudeau government announced $17 million in funding for women’s rights abroad as part of a peacekeeping plan. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says the money will help tackle issues like abuse by peacekeepers. (The Canadian Press) By Bruce Campion-SmithOttawa Bureau Wed., Nov. 1, 2017 OTTAWA—Canada is stepping up efforts to put gender issues front and centre in conflict zones, including the deployment of more women soldiers on peace support missions, elements of a strategy that will be part of long-awaited peacekeeping initiatives expected in the coming weeks. In a possible preview of the priorities for that peace mission, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland unveiled Ottawa’s action plan on women, peace and security Wednesday, saying that a “feminist foreign policy” is needed now more than ever in the face of “angry reactionary movements.” “We must take courageous action towards gender equality, especially where women are most vulnerable,’ Freeland said. The foreign affairs minister denied that such an agenda was about political correctness or “virtue signaling.” Rather, she said that putting such a focus on foreign issues has practical impacts that bring changes on the ground. “It matters because where women, in all their diversity, are included in our collective security, everyone is safer,” she said. The plan earmarks a total of $17.1 million in all for gender initiatives to encourage the participation of women and girls in efforts to prevent and resolve conflict. Chrystia Freeland, minister of foreign affairs, front, arrives with Maryam Monsef, left, minister of status of women, Harjit Sajjan, middle back, defence minister and Marie-Claude Bibeau, minister of international development and La Francophonie to make an announcement on women, peace and security in Ottawa on Nov. 1, 2017. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS) It includes funding to help train female police officers for UN peace missions, improve gender equality in UN operations and promote the inclusion of women in peace building. The investments support initiatives in places such as Mali, Colombia and Haiti, which have been named as possible locales for Canada’s peace deployment. Elements of the plan, a follow-up to a strategy first rolled out by the Conservatives in 2011, also include cracking down on abuse and sexual assaults by security personnel and peacekeepers. “There can be no impunity for these crimes. Not for soldiers. Not for civilians. Not for those sent to keep the peace or provide assistance,” Freeland said. In a strong show of support for the policy, four of Freeland cabinet colleagues were on hand, including International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef, and several foreign diplomats, among them Kelly Craft, the new U.S. ambassador to Canada. It comes as Ottawa is closing in on a decision to deploy up to 600 soldiers and 150 police officers on a peace support mission. During the 2015 election, Justin Trudeau pledged that a Liberal government would return Canada to United Nations peacekeeping but his government has dragged its feet on making a decision. Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of defence staff, met with cabinet ministers on Tuesday and it’s believed that the peace mission was the focus of that discussion. The Star had reported that while Mali was one likely destination for the deployment it’s possible that Canada’s peace mission — comprising trainers and support, such as transport aircraft and helicopters — will be spread among several countries. Vance, who was present for Wednesday’s announcement, would only say that the government “will announce its decision when it’s made its decision.” But he said that elements of Wednesday’s strategy are a priority for the Canadian Armed Forces. “The military deployments that will occur as part of peace-support operations will be announced in due course and will be consistent with exactly what has been briefed today,” Vance told reporters. As the Star has previously reported, Ottawa has committed to deploy more women on the upcoming peace mission and Vance said that can be “critical” to the success of such operations. “There are clearly instances when a high percentage of women is very valuable in terms of accessing populations, putting in place the kind of measures necessary to protection the population but also to find out what is going on,” he said. “But it’s more than that and I think Canada’s ambitions will be higher than that, in terms of how to make peacekeeping more effective overall,” Vance said. Some form of an announcement is now expected before Canada plays host to a UN peacekeeping summit in Vancouver in mid-November. During an appearance at the Senate earlier in the week, Sajjan cited changing conditions on the ground as one reason for the delayed announcement of a peace mission. “When I talk about the changes on the ground, we’re talking about the different radical groups, different events, how the corruption are impacting things, the elections as well,” he said Wednesday. But Sajjan said too that Canada’s approach to the coming peace mission will involve more than just the military. “While we look at the military role of what they can do, that we also have to keep in mind that this is not just a strictly a military solution and should not just be a military question,” Sajjan said. “We have to be looking at it from a whole-of-government perspective and those are some of the initiatives that have been ongoing,’ he said.