Department of Peace initiative launched

By 
  • August 6, 2009
{mosimage}A private members’ bill to establish a Canadian Department of Peace will soon be before Parliament, perhaps as early as the fall.

British Columbia MP Bill Siksay jumped on board the six-year-old campaign advocating for a Department of Peace just a few years ago, and recently volunteered to write the legislation for the private members’ bill he hopes to table in September.

“We need to clarify the role of the armed forces and peace building in our foreign policy,” Siksay told The Catholic Register. “Does that run counter to having a military? I don’t think so. People often join the military because they have a desire to make the world a more peaceful and safe place.”

A news release from the Department of Peace Initiative said the department would attempt to “increase the coherence and co-ordination of peace-related policies in the federal government,” rebuild “Canada’s role in international peacebuilding, UN peacekeeping and peace diplomacy including disarmament,” it would seek to de-escalate “violent conflict, the risk of nuclear weapon use and the proliferation of these weapons” and reverse “the recent trend towards militarism as manifested by the growth of military budgets and Canada’s war-fighting posture in the world.”

Sr. Mary Alban Bouchard, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph working on peace initiatives in Haiti, thinks the creation of a peace department is very important to Canada’s longstanding image as a peacekeeping nation and for a continuing role as peacekeepers in the world. Bouchard spent 17 years as her order’s representative at the United Nations.

“We had learned the art of compromise,” she said. “But I think we are losing that and we need to reclaim what people thought and hopefully still think of us.”

“The best we can hope for first of all is to raise the profile of our initiative enormously,” said Dr. Saul Arbess, one of the founders of the Canadian Department of Peace Initiative. He emphasized it is a non-partisan group and seeks support from all political parties.

Arbess is concerned that Canada is beginning to pale in comparison with small countries like Costa Rica, which has advanced its peacekeeping initiatives significantly over the past few decades.

But Arbess is optimistic that a September summit will help raise its profile significantly at the international level. The Global Alliance for Ministries and Departments of Peace will hold the summit in Costa Rica. Previous summits were held in Japan and Victoria.

However, critics suggest that a Department of Peace could have a divisive impact in Canada. Unlike Costa Rica, which abolished its military in 1949, Canada continues to foster its peace initiatives through the Department of National Defence. A peace department would make Canadian troops partially answerable to two departments, which could be both a bureaucratic nightmare and a morale killer, said David Welch, CIGI Chair of Global Security at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and political science professor at the University of Waterloo.

“If there’s one thing we have learned through the history of peace activism, it’s that governments are more often than not the problem, not the solution,” Welch said. 

Welch believes DND handles peacekeeping and peacebuilding tasks well, even though its contributions to blue-helmet peacekeeping operations have faded.

But a more obvious obstacle to the success of a peace department, he added, is that peacekeeping falls behind issues like health care and the deficit in the eyes of Canadian voters, which could delay support of the initiative for years to come.

Nathan Funk, assistant professor in Peace and Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University College at the University of Waterloo, suggested that schools with peace and conflict programs could play an important role in discussions surrounding a peace department. He also said the initiative may not be well understood as previous attempts made by a crown corporation to advance the proposed department had a limited mandate and a narrower focus than what the Initiative is currently advocating for.

“Canada does indeed have a critical mass of expertise in the domains of knowledge and practice that the Department of Peace would seek to advance,” Funk said. “What we lack at the present time is a vehicle to help reinvigorate collective efforts and leadership that is willing to evoke the vision and provide the necessary resources.”

The Department for Peace Initiative currently has chapters in Ottawa and Victoria, with other chapters developing as the Initiative’s co-chair Theresa Dunn makes a speaking tour across the country over the summer.

To find out more about the Initiative, visit www.departmentofpeace.ca .

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location
Type the text presented in the image below

Support The Catholic Register

Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.