Contrary to what some people believe, Canada has gotten its hands bloody pretty often in the past
Whenever Canada makes headlines in the United States, whether it’s an oil spill, a shooting spree or another Justin Bieber freak-out, Americans often refer to us as those peace loving Canadians or our peaceful northern neighbors. You would think we’re a gigantic hippie colony.
Truth be told, we often like to refer to ourselves as peacekeepers. A sanctimonious moniker we like to bestow upon ourselves to distinguish us from our war-mongering Yankee friends. The fact is, we aren’t much better.
Following the Ottawa shooting last week, where a Canadian born Jihadist was killed in a shootout in parliament after killing a soldier, both the American and Canadian media kept repeating the words: “even a peaceful nation like Canada isn’t immune to terrorism.”
I found that type of comment very disingenuous. Aside from a period during the cold war, Canada has not been a peaceful nation. In our brief history (since confederation in 1867), Canada has fought in roughly a dozen foreign wars. That’s a war every dozen years. Furthermore, Canada has needed to deploy its armed forces on Canadian territory several times.
Understandably, early on Canada was still part of the British Empire and we were obligated to help them when called upon. We didn’t even declare war, we just went. In fact, the only war where Canada refused to join British forces was the Iraq War.
Canadians fought in the Second Boer War, World War I, the Russian Civil War, World War II and the Korean War. All before our first centennial. Then the guns went silent throughout much of the cold war.
In 1957, Canadian Lester B. Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in resolving the Suez Crisis through the United Nations. The UN Emergency Force was Pearson’s creation, and he is considered the father of the modern concept of peacekeeping.
Since then, Canada has been one of the world’s foremost peacekeeping force. From the 1950s to the present day, Canada has been involved in over thirty peacekeeping missions throughout the world. Twenty of them in the 1990s alone. This is obviously why we Canadians (of my age in particular) like to think of ourselves as peacekeepers. But it isn’t the whole story.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Canada has been involved in many military missions, usually under the NATO flag. The Persian Gulf War, the Bosnian War, the Kosovo War, the Afghanistan War, the Libyan Civil War. We were indirectly involved in the Iraq war and now we are soon to be bombing ISIS there as well.
The days of peacekeeping are indeed over. Since Stephen Harper came to power in 2006, Canada has participated in just one peacekeeping mission, but the wars keep coming. He oversaw five years of the Afghan War, participated in the Libyan Civil War and is sending CF18s to bomb ISIS.
On top of all that, Harper suspended diplomatic relations with Iran and expelled Iranian diplomats from Canada. Thanks to Harper, Canada was also one of the only countries to vote against Palestine’s ‘Non-Member Observer State’ Status in the United Nations.
Whether you agree with these policies or not, they are not the actions of a peace loving country. We are no longer dictating foreign policy in Lester B. Pearson’s image. We can no longer be seen as a serious broker for peace when we take sides or close down embassies. Imagine how different the world might be if someone like Harper had been in Pearson’s place. But I Digress.
Looking back on Canada’s military history you can make several arguments in its defense. We were just following the orders of the British, the military actions were for the greater good, we needed to project our strength, etc.
Regardless of the reason, the fact is, none of the pre or post-world war operations were in self-defense or in defense of the British. When we rush headlong militarily into the affairs of other nations, it can often create more problems than it solves. Just ask an American historian.
We might not start wars, but that in itself does not make Canada a peaceful country. We still go along for the ride. A peaceful country either stays away from conflict entirely or they do their best to end other conflicts at the negotiating table, which we no longer do.