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Canada nearly lost 2018 UN mission because it didn’t have enough women in uniform

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Canada came within a whisker of losing its place in a United Nations peacekeeping mission in the fall of 2018 because of the military’s inability to consistently deploy enough women to meet the world body’s guidelines.

For the Liberal government, the political optics would have been horrible had the UN’s department of peacekeeping carried out its threat to “reallocate” the post in the critical international mission in South Sudan.

The government has made the recruitment of more women for peacekeeping operations a policy priority — something that was mentioned prominently during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent tour of Africa, where he attempted to drum up support for Canada’s bid for a Security Council seat.

In 2018, the UN was talked out of dropping Canada from the Sudan mission by Canadian officials who assured the world body that a better rotation system was being put in place by the Department of National Defence — one that would see the required number of women attached to the mission.

Extraordinary pressure

That near-miss, however, points to the Canadian military’s wider struggle to recruit women in large numbers, and to the extraordinary pressure the UN guidelines have imposed on the existing pool of talented, qualified female soldiers.

UN guidelines mandate that, for observer missions like the one in South Sudan, 15 per cent of each country’s staff officer and military observer positions must be filled by women. (Deployed operations, such as the recently concluded mission to Mali, have different, less strict metrics.)

In order to boost representation on the observer missions, the UN peacekeeping department even relaxed the rules for each country, allowing for women lower in the ranks (such as lieutenants and warrant officers) to be counted, where previously they had not.

The UN reviews countries’ mission representation every quarter. In the fall of 2018, Canada was told it would lose its deployment to South Sudan, documents obtained by CBC News reveal.

“Canada failed to meet the target in the last quarter, and as a result, at the end of September the UN advised that the CAF position in UNMISS (UN Mission in South Sudan) was going to be reallocated to another country. The UN has since indicated that it will not reallocate the position, given the measures the CAF is putting in place to rectify the situation.” said a briefing note for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan dated Oct. 29, 2018.

Canada gets an exemption

The Canadian office at the UN was notified of the decision by fax and it set off an immediate response. A defence official with knowledge of the file said Canada wasn’t the only nation to receive the warning in the fall of 2018.

Once the UN’s department of peacekeeping was told about the measures the government was putting in place, an exemption was granted, said the official, who spoke on background but was not authorized to publicly address the issue.

Canada’s inability to meet the recruitment threshold had been a long-standing issue, according to the briefing note.

“Initial reporting has shown for over a year that we have not been consistently meeting the 15 per cent target. For example, we were at 8.7 per cent in October 2017, 15.8 per cent in May 2018 and 4.8 per cent in August,” said the document, obtained by CBC News through access to information legislation.

 

Canadian peacekeepers prepare for a parade at Maple Leaf Camp in Port-au-Prince Nov. 28, 1997. (Daniel Morel/Canadian Press, AP)

 

The report goes on to note that, “based on the amount of UN officer and military observer positions allocated to Canada, Canada needs at five women deployed” on observer missions at any one time. At the time the briefing was written, only one woman was in the field.

Despite the government’s political pronouncements, the Canadian military is still getting used to looking at deployments through a gender lens.

A ‘strain’ on the Canadian Forces

The “process for identifying the right member for deployment is aimed — above all else — [at] ensuring the selected member has the right qualifications, skill set and experience for the position at hand,” said the briefing note, adding that having a larger pool of women serving throughout the military eventually would solve the problem.

Stefani von Hlatky, an associate professor of political studies at Queen’s University, said the issue is about more than just recruiting more women — it’s also about having women with the right skill sets.

“There is typically a high demand [on UN missions] for infantry officers and that is not a trade where women are particularly well-represented,” she told CBC News.

“If Canada is to meet, consistently, targets that are imposed by the UN when it comes to the representation of women in UN missions, then it is constantly going to be a strain for the Canadian Armed Forces.”

Women already serving in the Canadian Forces could face unique pressure, given their limited numbers.

“There is the consideration that if the Canadian Armed Forces is asked to constantly meet that target and simply doesn’t have the numbers to consistently hit the 15 per cent target from rotation to rotation, there might be more pressure on women to deploy more often and might impact the career trajectory of individual women,” Von Hlatky said.

The defence minister said he recognizes the challenges and the amount of work it will take to ensure there is meaningful representation by women on UN observer operations.

Harjit Sajjan also defended the government’s record.

“We’ve worked very hard to ensure that if we’ve been telling other nations to have more women in peacekeeping operations, that we’re going to lead by example, and we have,” said Sajjan, who noted Canada has put women in charge of NATO operations and in senior posts within the military alliance.

But NATO, said von Hlatky, does not impose specific gender targets on its missions — and Canada’s soaring rhetoric and promises have created expectations.

“I definitely think there is a gap between the rhetoric and the practice,” she said.

“I think Canada, in terms of its rhetoric, should be careful to adjust that rhetoric to its means.”

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Families with members stuck in China call for third Canadian rescue flight – CBC.ca

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Chinese Canadians and others with family stuck in China’s Hubei province are calling for the federal government to send a third plane to repatriate Canadians, visa holders and permanent residents alike. 

The city of Wuhan, China, was locked down in late January, leaving visitors with little or no opportunity to leave.

A group that uses the messaging app WeChat to organize represents at least 50 families with loved ones trapped in Hubei province. 

A letter the group has sent to Global Affairs Canada, and plans to send to several Members of Parliament, states people still trapped either didn’t have enough warning to prepare for the two Canadian flights, felt misinformed about who was allowed to board or didn’t sign onto the government’s registry quickly enough. 

“We strongly urge the Canadian government to repatriate these families promptly by deploying another chartered flight. The longer this ordeal carries on, and the longer the lockdown continues for these unfortunate individuals, the more danger it will impose on the Canadians stuck there,” the letter reads. 

“We cannot bear the thought of losing our family members if something were to happen in the next few weeks.” 

One Canadian citizen, Elaine Cheng, said she chose not to board either plane after learning her husband, who only has a Canadian visa, wouldn’t be allowed to leave the country with her. She opted to stay in Wuhan, and thinks Canada can do better. 

“I think the way they treat my husband, or someone similar to my husband’s situation in China, is totally inhumane,” she said by phone Saturday. “Inhumane, uncompassionate and unfair.”

The B.C.-resident has been trapped in an apartment for the past month with her husband and limited food.

Although she has no plans to abandon her husband, she’d like to return home.

“That’s why I do not choose to live just for my own sake, for humanity and compassion purpose,” she said. “That’s what we, Canadians, advocate in this country and in this world, to other people in other countries, including China.

“We should not be abandoning anybody that has close ties to us in our life.”

Global Affairs responds

Global Affairs Canada didn’t directly respond to questions about whether the department would send a third plane.

But a spokesperson said those trapped in Hubei province can contact Canada’s embassy in Beijing, call its 24/7 Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa or send a message to the federal government’s SOS email account.

“We remain in regular contact with Canadians in China and are continuing to provide assistance to those in need to the extent possible,” the spokesperson said.

Vancouver-resident Yaqi Huang says her 63-year-old father, a permanent resident of Canada, was visiting her grandfather over the Chinese New Year when the city’s roads were shut down and planes were grounded.

Not only were her father stuck inside the city, he also became separated from the 89-year-old grandfather. 

“Most people feel scared. They feel nervous. They feel trapped by the government,” she said. 

While Huang initially heard only permanent residents accompanying Canadian minors were allowed to leave – a decision made by Chinese officials – she was surprised to hear stories of permanent residents without young children being allowed to leave Wuhan.

After the second plane left, the 37-year-old emailed the Canadian government again.

“To say, ‘So what is the policy for letting people on the flight?'” Huang said. “I say, ‘We just need to know the truth.'”

Yaqi Huang and her 89-year-old grandfather, Dao Li Huang, in Wuhan, China, in 2018. Yaqi’s father is still in Wuhan. (Supplied by Yaqi Huang)

Earlier this month, China’s deputy director of the Foreign Ministry Information Department said the country would loosen its grip and allow Chinese citizens to fly out of the city, accompanied by foreign family members. 

In an emailed response to Huang, however, Global Affairs Canada said the Chinese government maintained absolute authority over who could, and who couldn’t, board the planes. 

“We advocated strongly for Canadians, [permanent residents] and their families to be eligible,” the email dated Feb. 19 reads.

The emailed response says that even if the Canadian government allowed Huang’s father to travel to the airport, Chinese officials would have prevented him from boarding the flight.

“We share your frustration as well. Your parents are, without a doubt, in a difficult situation right now.”

While Huang wants her father to be repatriated and supports the efforts for a third plane to be sent, she’s not hopeful.

“I know it’s a fat chance for the Canadian government to go help, to send an airplane into Wuhan,” she said. “It’s really hard. We just want to be treated [fairly], like other families.”

Other reasons to stay

Kristina Shramko, of Richmond, B.C., said she’s been living in Wuhan for eight months.

After graduating university, the 21-year-old decided to travel. 

She visited Wuhan and, after returning to Canada briefly, had been persuaded to return to China by a romantic partner she started dating. 

When the novel coronavirus epicentre was placed in lockdown, Shramko contacted the Canadian government, hoping to leave the city.  

When she heard about the strict no pets policy on both flights, however, she decided she couldn’t go.

Kristina Shramko, of Richmond, B.C., says she doesn’t want to leave her pet cat, Kitya, in Wuhan. (Bethany Lindsay/CBC)

She had recently adopted a cat, named Kitya.

“Even if I were to leave my cat with a friend, it’s not certain when I would come back,” Shramko said. “To me, it would be abandoning her.”

Elaine Cheng, likewise, has concerns about leaving her cat behind in Wuhan. 

Shramko would like to come home until the outbreak is over, but feels she can’t as long as the pet policy is in place. She said outside of her residence “kind of feels like the zombie apocalypse.”

The Canadian citizen is currently raising money to pay for a plane ticket for her, and Kitya, when travel restrictions on the city are lifted.  

“It’s really important for people to know that there are people who have decided to stay in Wuhan,” she said. 

Wife is trapped

Most of Simon Zheng’s family is now stuck in Wuhan, including his wife. 

The Canadian citizen’s partner, who has a work permit designed for spouses, was also visiting China over the holidays. 

Zheng, a resident of Surrey, B.C., planned to come to Wuhan later in January but was held back by work. Now his wife is stranded with his in-laws and parents, Chinese citizens who live in the city. 

Simon Zheng says his wife is trapped in Wuhan, China. (Supplied by Simon Zheng)

The small business owner feels if he had been in Hubei province, his wife might have been able to board a plane, like some non-Canadian citizens who were permitted to leave.

“I was not there, so she wasn’t able to [be] included in those kinds of groups,” he said.

Zheng said he’s uncertain how long the lockdown will last and fears his family’s limited supplies could run out. 

But he hasn’t given up hope.

The WeChat group he is a part of started with fewer than 10 families, Zheng said, and continues to grow. 

He hopes the federal government takes the pleas of families with loved ones still trapped seriously.

“I have good faith, because we’re doing whatever we can,” he said.

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Violent ends to past Indigenous protests haunt Trudeau government – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
The ghosts of Indigenous protests past have hovered over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as his government struggles to bring a peaceful end to blockades that have disrupted traffic on rail lines and other major transportation routes across the country for more than two weeks.

Oka. Ipperwash. Caledonia. Gustafsen Lake. Burnt Church.

Those are just some of the names that evoke grim memories of violent confrontations that resulted from attempts to forcibly shut down Indigenous protests.

Even as he called Friday for police to enforce injunctions and bring down the barricades, Trudeau stressed the need for a peaceful resolution and worried about the potential for another Oka — the 78-day standoff in Quebec in 1990 that left one police officer dead, an Indigenous teenager badly wounded and the relationship between Mohawks and non-Indigenous locals in tatters.

“History has taught us how governments can make matters worse if they fail to exhaust all other possible avenues,” Trudeau said.

The lesson has been repeated countless times over the past 60 years and will continue to be repeated so long as federal and provincial governments fail to resolve Indigenous land claims, in the view of Hayden King, executive director of the Yellowhead Institute, a First Nations-led think tank at Ryerson University.

“We see through Canadian history that Canadians want access to the land, they want to use the land, they want to extract resources from the land and, even if that means harm, significant harm and violence to Indigenous Peoples, that overriding interest has prevailed,” says King.

“And now we’re at a point in Canadian history where all those cases (of violent confrontation) … they’ve all culminated to the point that we’re at now where there isn’t a clear avenue to address this in a climate of so-called reconciliation.”

At least initially, in resisting pressure for immediate enforcement of injunctions and calling for patience, Trudeau struck a markedly different tone than bellicose government leaders faced with similar circumstances in the past.

Michael Coyle, a Western University law professor who specializes in Indigenous rights and dispute resolution, says that was the right approach and “much more likely to lead to a mutually agreed and respectful outcome.”

But under pressure from business leaders, premiers and the public, Trudeau adopted a more assertive tone Friday, insisting the barricade must come down.

While the prime minister insisted he wasn’t directing the police, King says Trudeau was signalling to police that the time had come to move in. King believes, however, that police forces are “less susceptible” to that kind of pressure from political leaders than in the past.

Coyle too, believes police and some politicians have learned from past mistakes that the use of force risks lives, can inflame an already tense situation and doesn’t necessarily lead to “an enduring peaceful outcome.” Police have also learned that enforcing the rule of law includes protecting Indigenous rights, he says.

Indeed, so far, police across the country have shown considerably more restraint and sensitivity than was exhibited by the Ontario Provincial Police in 1995 when members of the Stony Creek First Nation occupied land appropriated by the federal government for a military training camp and the nearby Ipperwash Provincial Park.

Under pressure from the provincial government to quickly remove the protesters from the park and acting on unverified reports of gunfire, dozens of heavily armed OPP officers in riot gear marched towards the protesters at night. In the fear and confusion that followed, Indigenous protester Dudley George was shot and killed.

An inquiry into the Ipperwash crisis was highly critical of the OPP for failing to educate officers on Indigenous rights or to discipline some of the overtly racist officers involved. It also criticized police and the government for not trying first to communicate with protesters or negotiate an end to the park occupation.

In the current crisis, Trudeau has expressed confidence in the “professionalism” of the police to deal with blockades that sprung up across the country in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to a natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia. And he has categorically ruled out deploying the military.

Back in 1990, some 800 soldiers wound up facing off against Indigenous protesters after a botched police raid to remove a blockade — set up by Kanesatake Mohawk warriors to protest expansion of a golf course on disputed land that included a Mohawk burial ground — left one officer dead.

The raid inflamed tensions, prompting neighbouring Kahnawake and Akwesasne Mohawks to erect more barricades that shut down highways and the Mercier bridge, cutting off residents in Montreal’s southern suburbs from the island of Montreal. Some infuriated local residents retaliated by throwing stones at cars taking the elderly, women and children out of the Kanesatake reserve.

While Oka and Ipperwash were the deadliest, there have been other instances when attempts to forcibly end Indigenous protests have turned ugly. Here’s a summary of a few:

CALEDONIA (2006)

Mohawks from the Six Nations of the Grand River occupied a construction site for a new subdivision on disputed land in this community southwest of Hamilton. Local residents accused the Mohawks of harassment, intimidation and sabotage and they accused the OPP of doing nothing to protect them. The occupation lasted 52 days before the OPP launched a raid and arrested 16 people. Several police officers were injured and property destroyed. In solidarity, Mohawks of Tyendinaga blocked railroad tracks near Belleville, just as they are doing now in support of the Wet’suwet’en.

GUSTAFSON LAKE (1995)

A rancher tried to kick a small group of First Nations Sundancers off his property — which they claimed was unceded Secwepemc territory — in northern B.C. They refused to leave. Some 400 RCMP officers were deployed to the site, backed up by helicopters and armoured personnel carriers. Gunfights ensued. One Indigenous woman was injured. The standoff lasted several months, said to be one of the largest police actions in Canadian history at a cost of $5.5 million.

BURNT CHURCH (1999-2002)

This began as a long-running dispute between non-Indigenous and Mi’kmaq fishers in New Brunswick, over the Mi’kmaqs’ treaty rights to catch fish and lobster out of season. There were numerous violent confrontations between them, with shots fired. In August 2000, federal fisheries officers launched a raid on Mi’kmaq lobster traps, ramming Mi’kmaq boats and forcing their occupants overboard.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2020.

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'The time has come': Despite pleas from government, no sign of blockades coming down – CTV News

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TORONTO —
As hereditary chiefs from Wet’suwet’en First Nation return to British Columbia, protesters show no signs of removing the blockades crippling the country’s rail network despite ongoing pleas from the federal government.

“The time has come. The barricades must come down,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said during an interview with CTV’s Question Period Sunday, reiterating Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s message to protesters Friday.

“The law must be obeyed. But at the same time we are not in any way stepping back from our commitment to continue the dialogue that is part of the entire reconciliation agenda.”

On Friday, Trudeau said court injunctions to put an end to the blockades “must be obeyed” and that “the law must be upheld.”

But little has changed at theblockade near Belleville, Ont. blocking a critical east-west rail line between Toronto and Montreal, where there are no signs that protesters plan on dismantling their camp. Meanwhile, Via Rail said it is set to resume certain routes, including its Quebec City-Montreal-Ottawa route on Monday.

“We all understand the importance of a peaceful resolution, but a speedy resolution because the impact of these barricades is unacceptable, untenable,” said Blair, noting that while the government wants protesters to remove the blockades, he understands there is still “a lot of work to be done” with Indigenous leaders.

The Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders spent Friday near the Belleville-area blockade meeting with Mohawk supporters.

Following the meeting, Hereditary Chief Woos said the group was ready to engage in nation-to-nation talks with the B.C. and federal government once the RCMP and Coastal GasLink leave their traditional territory and cease work on the natural gas pipeline project.

The RCMP have “temporarily” closed a remote detachment that stood on Wet’suwet’en territory at the 29-kilometre mark on the Morice West Forest Service Road, positioning themselves instead in the nearby town of Houston, B.C. However, the RCMP says patrols will continue in the area.

Blair said the RCMP has held up their end of the deal, but noted that the RCMP will not abandon the area entirely.

“I have great confidence in the deputy commissioner in B.C. and in her officers. They have been working tirelessly to resolve this peacefully, and I would encourage the hereditary chiefs to come back to that discussion and let’s work together,” he said.

“The role and the duty and responsibility of the RCMP is to provide policing services and keep safe the thousands of people that live in that region. We’re not going to be able to abandon them and so they will continue to receive the services that they need from the RCMP.”

He also noted that Costal GasLink is in the process of obtaining a new permit and work would not continue on the territory until that permit is issued.

With files from The Canadian Press

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