OTTAWA — There are growing signs that Canada won't meet the criteria for attending a November peacekeeping summit in Vancouver, even though it is the host country.
The price of admission is clear in leaked UN documents obtained by The Canadian Press: Defence ministers attending must be ready to pledge specific forces to the UN, if they haven't already done so.
Canada has yet to make any definite pledge, despite being the host of this year's summit, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wouldn't commit Wednesday to a decision before mid-November.
The uncertainty over Canada's plans before the meeting has prompted renewed frustration and disappointment from the UN and various allies, some of whom are losing faith in the Liberal government's promise to support peacekeeping.
The UN documents lay out the overarching agenda and goals of the defence ministers' two-day meeting, which starts Nov. 14.
Those include looking at ways to better prevent conflict, protect civilians and ensure soldiers and police officers on peacekeeping missions are well trained.
The summit will also put a heavy emphasis on increasing the number of female peacekeepers and incorporating gender perspectives into operations.
Yet the real focus of the meeting will be on taking stock of the specific pledges those countries in attendance will have already made, or are prepared to make, to UN peacekeeping operations.
That is why participation in the summit, the third of its kind after the inaugural event in Washington in 2015 and last year's meeting in London, is only open to those countries that have made pledges.
"The participants of the 2017 ministerial will be defence ministers from all member states that have pledged and progressed capabilities … or that are ready to make a new pledge," the document says.
It goes on to detail the specific equipment and troops that the UN needs for various missions, with "critical gaps" in the peacekeeping missions in Mali, South Sudan and Haiti.
Trudeau said Wednesday that Canadians expect his government to take its time before sending troops in harm's way and he wouldn't commit to a decision before the time of the Vancouver meeting.
"We need to make sure that we're doing it right, that we're doing it in a thoughtful way and that it's the right mission," he said in St. John's, N.L. "We will take the time necessary to do it properly."
The Trudeau government announced with much fanfare last year that Canada would provide up to 600 soldiers to future UN peacekeeping missions, but it has yet to spell out any details.
Early signs pointed to Canada sending a large number of troops to Mali and trainers to various other African countries to help their militaries become better at peacekeeping.
But the Liberals have instead waffled for over a year on where to deploy, except to send two police officers to monitor the peace process in Colombia in February.
Multiple officials at the Defence Department have said the file is out of the military's hands and now rests with Global Affairs Canada and the Prime Minister's Office.
The government's foot-dragging has long frustrated UN officials and allies, but there was always an expectation that a decision would at least be made by the Vancouver meeting.
Foreign diplomats in Ottawa and UN officials in New York were scrambling on Wednesday to find out whether that was now off the table, even as they lamented the government's mixed messaging.
"Canada is making one promise after the other," said one diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "But there's nothing on the ground. So Canada is not delivering.
Canada's foot-dragging has hampered mission planning and left critical gaps in terms of personnel and equipment on the ground, the diplomats added, especially in Mali.
And they warned that some countries could end up sending lower-level officials to Vancouver if Canada isn't prepared to make an announcement at the peacekeeping meeting.
Royal Military College professor Walter Dorn, who has done extensive work on peacekeeping, worried that Canada was setting a bad example as the UN tries to rally support for peacekeeping.
"It shows poor performance in delivering on commitments," Dorn said. "And performance is one of the principles this conference is supposed to uphold."
— Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
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