Kitty Shephard, Blog Writer

Canada has traditionally held a very important humanitarian leadership role around the world. Peacekeeping missions have given it the legacy of a nation who aids countries in desperate need of relief. These efforts were recognized internationally when Canada was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts. The country’s concentration on international humanitarian work was crucial to the functionality of early United Nations (UN) operations. Consequently Canada often has an automatic association with peacekeeping operations. However recent phenomenon, both internally and externally, has put Canada’s reputation for humanitarianism under fire.

Canadian humanitarian principles have recently come under scrutiny, due in part to its responses to internal and external events. Contemporary events in places such as Sudan, and specifically Darfur, have challenged their traditional reputation as a global leader in humanitarian efforts. In 2013 the Canadian government dramatically reduced their task force in Darfur. Operations in Sudan and South Sudan were limited at a time when analysts and international humanitarian groups reported that violence across the region was actually re-surging. The lack of operations and aid given to Sudan by Canada has contributed to allowing al-Bashir to expand his power despite the International Criminal Court’s warrant for his arrest.

Sudan is currently ranked fifth in the list of countries who receive Canadian aid, however the situation continues to escalate with unclear mandates leaving operations ineffective. Canada’s responses to crises such as the reports of mass rape in Tabit, where the Sudanese army is accused of raping women and children, have demonstrated the country’s growing separation from UN operations. There is an evident withdrawal of Canadian aid being given to UN operations since the closing of the mission in Golan Heights. Another sign of this separation is a reduction in the number of Canadian officers serving with the UN headquarters for peacekeeping operations, a long-standing qualification which contributed to Canada’s humanitarian reputation. Canada’s distancing from its responsibility to protect has been roundly criticized by many, including former conservative foreign minister, Peter MacKay. The genocide in Darfur is one of many mass atrocities to happen in the 21st century. After the failures in Rwanda and Bosnia, Canada has stepped back from its role as a humanitarian powerhouse and has failed to make the will to intervene in cases of genocide a priority of governments.

Canada now finds this reputation challenged even further by internal factors. Canada’s own Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded last week. The report was damning, with many of the speakers stating that Canada had committed cultural genocide against its Aboriginal peoples through the notorious Residential Schools Program. Canadian Aboriginal populations have endured a long battle with the Canadian government leading up to the release of the report. This factor, in addition to the criticism levelled against the government for their lack of response to missing and murdered Aboriginal women, has emphasized that this “humanitarian” country has to face the wrongs from its own past. The politics of redress needed to recognize the history between the federal government and Aboriginal populations is an opportunity for Canada to reconcile its own humanitarian violations. The responsibility to protect is one of both domestic and foreign concern. The recent Canadian approach to Sudan and South Sudan, as well as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, have emphasized that the Canadian government must review their policies in order to salvage their humanitarian legacy.

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