September 21 International Day of Peace: History of Canada's Role
The contributions of Canada and its citizens to international peace and justice have been numerous, yet many Canadians and international citizens may be unaware of the specifics behind our reputation as a peace-keeping nation.
- A Canadian, John Humphrey, was the principal author of the first draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948.
- United Nations peacekeeping developed from Lester Pearson's proposal to interpose troops between Arab and Israeli armies in 1956, an initiative for which he won the Nobel Prize.
- Canadians were pivotal players in the adoption of the Land Mines Treaty, an international accord which now regulates the actions of 156 countries and prevents countless injuries and deaths, often tragically involving children playing outdoors.
- Canada was a principal architect of the International Criminal Court, the first permanent tribunal to bring the perpetrators of egregious human rights violations – including heads of state – to justice. A Canadian, Philippe Kirsch, became the Court's first president in 2003.
- Canada also established the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which in 2001 produced the landmark report Responsibility to Protect that calls upon the international community to prevent man-made catastrophes, and to intervene under stringent conditions for humanitarian purposes when a country is unwilling or unable to protect its own citizens.
Peace-keeping Less of a Priority for Current Canadian Government?
And yet Canada is losing the lustre of much of its accomplishments as an international human rights and peace leader.
The current government voted against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which was overwhelmingly approved by the General Assembly.
The Canadian government has failed to intervene forcefully on behalf of Canadian citizens held in Guantanamo Bay and other foreign countries, and has weakened its stance on capital punishment by not objecting to all planned executions of Canadians abroad.
In Afghanistan, our military has transferred prisoners to U.S. custody, in possible violation of the Convention against Torture.
Canada now contributes only 55 soldiers to UN missions world-wide, and no Canadians can be found at the headquarters of the UN's Department of Peacekeeping.
In Afghanistan, although Canadian Forces have not themselves planted land mines, they have taken advantage of those placed by Americans, a reliance which is against the spirit of the Land Mines Treaty.
Government-mandated changes to language used by Canadian diplomats such as avoiding the terms "human security," "international humanitarian law" and "impunity" signal weakening support for the International Criminal Court and Responsibility to Protect.
Many feel that given the mixed messages Canada's peacekeeping policy is sending, a larger national discussion involving citizens needs to occur in order to direct government policy. That debate may start at the polls.