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Michael Dewing, Corinne McDonald
Political and Social Affairs Division
Revised 18 May 2006
With thousands of Canadian Forces (CF) personnel deployed overseas in peace support and other military operations, there has been debate over Parliament’s role in authorizing the international deployment of Canadian Forces. Some argue that Parliament should be involved in related discussions much sooner and have more formalized authority over the final decision, while others counter that such requirements would hinder the government’s ability to respond quickly to crisis situations around the globe.
To clarify the question of Parliament’s role in the engagement of Canadian Forces overseas, this paper examines: the legal and constitutional authority for the commitment of Canadian military personnel abroad; the process whereby Canada has deployed its military (both in times of war and of peace); and the focus of the debates surrounding those deployments. Ultimately, this paper seeks to explore the appropriate degree of parliamentary involvement in making key defence decisions and how Parliament’s role in such matters could be strengthened without compromising Canada’s ability to respond swiftly and effectively to international crises.
As a matter of Canadian constitutional law, the situation is clear. The federal Cabinet can, without parliamentary approval or consultation, commit Canadian Forces to action abroad, whether in the form of a specific current operation or future contingencies resulting from international treaty obligations.
Under the Canadian Constitution (Constitution Act, 1867, sections 15 and 19), command of the armed forces – like other traditional executive powers – is vested in the Queen and exercised in her name by the federal Cabinet acting under the leadership of the Prime Minister. As far as the Constitution is concerned, Parliament has little direct role in such matters.
Of course, Parliament, especially the House of Commons, plays an indispensable though indirect role by voting or withholding funds and by retaining or withdrawing confidence in the government of the day. Moreover, short of an actual vote, there are other mechanisms that enable parliamentarians to hold the government accountable for its decisions and to register their own views. These include questions to ministers, debates on the Estimates, and take‑note debates.(2)(3)
Although Parliament has a specific statutory role in some national emergencies under the Emergencies Act and with respect to the active status of the Canadian Forces under the National Defence Act, Cabinet is required to seek parliamentary approval only in the event of conscription or specific states of emergency. Without consulting Parliament, Cabinet can deploy troops by an order in council.(4) Section 32 of the National Defence Act only “requires that Parliament (unless it is dissolved at the time) be sitting whenever any element of the Canadian Forces is placed on ‘active service’ by the Governor in Council, or within ten days thereafter.(5) Although the Act does not specifically give Parliament any say in the matter,(6) the requirement may reinforce Cabinet’s accountability to Parliament at such times by ensuring that parliamentarians are on hand to question and challenge the government.”(7)
The effectiveness of section 32 in this regard can be limited, however, when Cabinet simply issues “blanket” active service orders. For example, the Canadian Forces have been on active service continuously since 1950 in furtherance of Canada’s NATO commitments. Nonetheless, Cabinet has adopted the practice of issuing specific active service orders for major UN deployments.(8)
Of course, Cabinet is accountable to Parliament and ultimately to the electorate for its decisions. But given the potentially far-reaching and irrevocable nature of those decisions, it seems reasonable to consider whether the generally ex post facto scrutiny of executive policy in this area is sufficient. After all, legislatures of other countries (for example, the United States and Denmark) appear to have a greater role in foreign policy decision-making than does the Parliament of Canada. Moreover, past Canadian practice also seems to have allowed for more regular involvement of Parliament in foreign policy matters.(9)
According to Professor Kim Richard Nossal, “one of the most deeply rooted traditions in Canadian foreign policy is the idea that only Parliament should decide to commit Canadian forces to active service overseas.”(10) The application of this theory to practice – whether for an offensive deployment or for peace operations – has been inconsistent, as the analysis of deployments in Appendix 1 shows. To complicate matters, since the early 1990s it has become more difficult to distinguish offensive from non-offensive missions, because peace support operations have increasingly become high-risk for personnel. Involvement of Parliament in this decision-making has ranged from no consultation at any time to a full debate and vote in the House before the making of a formal commitment. In many cases, however, debate came only after the government had made its decision, or so close to a deadline that it had little influence on the final decision.(11)
Although the current government has increased the frequency of parliamentary debate on deployment, more deployments have been at issue. Apparently, the government has not established criteria (such as the size of the force or the duration of the commitment) to guide whether or not a given deployment will be debated. In some cases, it was only after opposition parties complained publicly about the lack of parliamentary debate that a government proceeded to hold discussions within the House of Commons. Some would argue that little appears to have changed over the years to strengthen parliamentary oversight in this area. Even individual government-party Members of Parliament outside Cabinet have little input into decisions on the use of the Canadian military, let alone any real power to affect those decisions.
Debate on changes in mandates or other actions during a mission are even rarer than those on initial deployment. Typically, mid-mission decisions are not brought back to the House. According to Art Eggleton, former Minister of National Defence, this reflects a precedent established in World War II and Korea, whereby:
Parliament was involved in the first-principle debates to commit or not to commit [Canadian Forces for international deployment]. The nature and extent of that commitment – where, when, how, and with what Canadian troops would engage the enemy – was not something for parliamentary review. This same model has applied to the initial peacekeeping deployments to recent conflicts in the Middle East and Cyprus. Parliament debated [the] commitment in principle, and the Government, advised by its military staffs, defined and managed that commitment subject, after the fact, to parliamentary review.(12)
To complicate matters further, many decisions must be based on factors beyond Canada’s control: “the reactive nature of Canada’s foreign policy means that much of the agenda is not the Canadian government’s to set.”(13) In many instances, unilateral action by other countries (such as the United States), alliances (such as NATO), or multilateral institutions (such as the United Nations) make parliamentary input impossible. It would not be diplomatically feasible to withhold all comments on Canada’s position from foreign representatives until after a parliamentary debate, particularly when most such decisions seek to address emerging crises within compressed timeframes.(14) Moreover, “once Canada commits troops, it has written off its right to act independently, and has become just another ‘troop contributing nation’ participating under a common policy adopted by the UN; and Canada becomes ‘locked in’. Subsequent Parliamentary involvement is largely ineffective.”(15)
The parliamentary calendar places yet another constraint on Canadian governments’ ability to engage Parliament actively before deciding how to proceed. Professor Nossal notes that, when combined with the “huge distances” that separate many Members’ constituencies from Ottawa, the fact that Parliament is not constantly in session renders meaningful input on its behalf into the making of day-to-day foreign policy near impossible: “Instead, the folk who are on duty … 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, and 52 weeks a year – ministers in cabinet, or, more properly, their officials – are perfectly placed to deal with the unpredictable rhythms of world politics. … Decisions can rarely wait until the members are reassembled and parliament organized for a debate.”(16)
Nonetheless, when the international deployment of Canadian Forces has been debated in the House of Commons, those debates did not typically focus on geopolitical reasons or interests that prompted Canada to become involved (or not). Strong support for a given military operation usually existed across party lines, especially if the mission in question had been authorized by the United Nations Security Council and/or if deployment had already occurred – that is, the engagement of Canadian Forces was de facto.
Rather, debate tended to focus on the ability of Canada and the armed forces – given the current environment of limited human, material and financial resources – to take on new commitments. Many challenges to the government revolved around providing adequate equipment and personnel to ensure the Canadian military was not overstretched and could complete its assignments without causing undue risk, either physical or mental, to its personnel. Questions seemed to focus more on whether Canadian Forces should be deployed if/when they did not have the proper resources to do the job safely, rather than on whether they should be sent at all.
Other questions from opposition Members inquired about the details of a deployment (its objectives, degree of risk, size, cost and expected duration), whether appropriate resources were available, and if there were any conditions on participation. Members of Parliament also wanted assurances that all other options had been exhausted and that solutions to the original source of conflict would continue to be pursued. They wanted to know about the government’s long-term plans, particularly in the event of escalation.
Of course, the major challenge to the government in most cases was to justify why Parliament had not been consulted or asked to vote with respect to these matters. Typically, opposition parties have not argued against the deployment of Canadian Forces. Ultimately, the problem is seen to be with the political process, not the actual act of deploying troops.
In Professor Nossal’s view, “when Canadian prime ministers say that parliament will decide such important matters [as the deployment of military forces overseas], they in fact do not really mean it. They do not mean it because they know formal parliamentary approval to be legally and constitutionally unnecessary. … [T]he use of the Canadian Forces abroad, whether to go to war or to engage in peacekeeping, is, in British parliamentary systems, the prerogative of the executive.”(17) Indeed, we are once again faced with the fact that, with the possible exception of a declaration of war,(18) there is no legally required role for the Canadian Parliament to approve Canada’s participation in external military operations, despite attempts to change this situation.
In its April 2000 report, the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs considered the lack of parliamentary approval of overseas deployments of Canadian Forces to be “unacceptable” and stated that “Parliament should always be consulted … when Canadian troops are deployed abroad.”(19) It also noted that the 1994 Special Joint Committee on Canada’s Defence Policy and the 1997 Commission of Inquiry into the Deployment of Canadian Forces to Somalia had called for enhanced parliamentary oversight of defence matters and made recommendations to that effect, with little impact. In his May 1996 Report, the Auditor General of Canada had done the same.(20) In addition, Members of Parliament have used private Members’ motions and opposition days in an attempt to require such a vote, at least in the House of Commons, before a decision is made. However, the government has consistently defeated these initiatives.
For example, Reform MP Chuck Strahl introduced a private bill, Bill C-295, in the House on 7 December 1994. The bill proposed amending the National Defence Act to provide for a vote in Parliament before Canada could commit to overseas operations, according to certain basic requirements. For example, the operations would have to be UN-authorized and involve a minimum of 100 CF personnel for at least one month. The mission would have to have specified objectives and duties as well as a clear role for Canada, while the government would have to establish a clear end date and its maximum planned expenditure for that mission. However, it did allow certain exceptions for outstanding circumstances. The bill was defeated on second reading on 19 June 1995.(21)
Reform MP Bob Mills’ similar attempt on 23 October 1996 was also eventually defeated.(22) On 10 June 1998, Parliament began consideration of another private Member’s motion (M-380) by Mr. Mills. In speaking to his motion, Mr. Mills explained that it had a three‑part approach. First, in an information session of two hours, Members of Parliament would sit in the House of Commons as a committee of the whole to hear from military, foreign affairs and academic experts and be informed of the history of the part of the world to which it was proposed troops would be dispatched. Second, in a debate of two hours, speakers from each party would present their party’s opinion on the proposal from a military and foreign affairs perspective. Finally, all Members would vote on whether to deploy CF personnel to the operation under consideration. If passed by the House, the motion would be transferred to a committee, which could then make appropriate adjustments.
The opposition parties argued for a change in how information on the activities and commitments of Canadian Forces was brought to the House, in order to achieve greater accountability, transparency and legitimacy as well as to avoid the “top-down” Cabinet decision approach to engaging Canadian Forces abroad. In the view of the opposition, special take-note debates took place too late to influence the outcome, and key players from the government were frequently absent from the chambers for the duration of any such debates. The opposition also expressed concern about the military’s lack of capability, in view of funding, equipment and personnel deficiencies, to continue to participate so widely around the world; and argued that voting would ensure a more democratic process, involving elected representatives to a greater extent and bolstering formal support for the government’s actions in a true expression of Parliament’s sentiment.
The government countered with references to its constitutional legal right to make such decisions independent of the legislature. It maintained that requiring a vote would “handcuff” it and deprive it of the necessary flexibility to respond quickly and decisively to emergency situations through the dispatch of troops on short notice. Government members noted that “additional steps in the deployment process risk[ed] delaying [its] ability to respond”(23) and could compromise alliance commitments under NATO and NORAD.
Finally, the government asserted that parliamentary procedure on the issue of military deployments had progressed significantly and would continue to do so without requiring a formal vote. As an example, it cited the practice that had emerged of consulting Parliament (when it was in session) through take-note debates in which all Members had an opportunity to express their views. Moreover, the government had attempted to involve all parties in its decision-making even when Parliament was not in session: during the situation in Haiti (when Parliament was in recess), the government informed the appropriate porte-parole from each of the opposition parties of the government’s intentions, and requested their agreement for action without recalling Parliament. The government also pointed out that it had pursued other means of involving Parliament in its decisions, such as having ministers appear before standing committees.
The motion was debated in the House on three separate occasions (10 June 1998, 29 October 1998 and 4 February 1999) before being defeated on 9 February 1999, despite support from most members of all four opposition parties.
Later, on 19 April 1999, during its allotted day, the Bloc Québécois moved:
That this House demand that the government submit to a debate and a vote in this House the sending of Canadian soldiers to the Balkans who may be involved in military or peacekeeping operations on the ground in Kosovo and the Balkan region.(24)
The Bloc’s main complaint concerned the lack of ongoing information about the mission. The Liberals responded that the motion was “imprecise at best” and that, if the House did not support the government, the opposition should introduce a motion of non-confidence. Government members further argued that the motion: dealt with a hypothetical situation; would set an unworkable precedent by requiring micro-management of the mission, thereby undermining day-to-day efficiency; and would hinder the deployed forces’ ability to respond swiftly and flexibly to new crises. Ultimately, the motion failed to pass.
Another attempt to have a compulsory vote came, interestingly, from the Senate. In its April 2000 report, the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs argued that:
While the requirement of an explicit and timely vote in Parliament on external military action may ultimately be deemed to be undesirable or infeasible on policy or procedural grounds, the idea should not be rejected out of hand as being incompatible with Canadian parliamentary democracy. Indeed, such a practice could have salutary effects in terms of enhancing both the involvement of parliamentarians in foreign and military affairs and the democratic legitimacy of such decisions.(25)
Consequently, the Committee recommended:
That both Houses of Parliament have the opportunity to debate and approve at the earliest possible moment Canadian participation in any military intervention or external conflict situation, including peacekeeping and peacemaking missions, with the Government clearly spelling out Canada’s interest in the situation and the scope of Canadian involvement.(26)
The government did not respond to the report.
Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, the Bloc Québécois revived the issue of requiring a vote before Canadian armed forces are committed. In an Opposition Day debate on 25 September, it moved the following motion:
That this House urge the government, in any reprisals taken in reaction to the terrorist strikes in New York on September 11, not to commit Canadian armed forces in any offensive action until the House of Commons has been consulted and has voted on the matter.(27)
The then Minister of Defence, Art Eggleton, said that while the government agreed that Parliament should be consulted, it would not agree to a vote on committing the armed forces because this was the responsibility of the government.(28) In the event, the motion was defeated.
After the election of a minority Parliament on 28 June 2004, the opposition parties once again put forward the idea of votes on Canadian participation in armed conflicts. On 9 September, the leaders of the opposition parties – Stephen Harper of the Conservative Party of Canada, Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Québécois, and Jack Layton of the New Democratic Party – announced they would be seeking a series of changes to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. Among these, they said “MPs should be allowed to vote on all opposition motions, including on the ratification of international treaties and on Canadian participation in armed conflicts… .”(29) In February 2005, all Opposition Days were made votable on a trial basis, expanding the capacity of opposition parties to precipitate votes on international treaties and initiatives.
The most obvious, although limited, means of exercising Parliament’s authority over the international deployment of Canadian Forces consists of its ability to withdraw confidence from the government in the House of Commons and to refuse to do the government’s supply (money) business.(30) As long as Parliament uses neither of these powers, it implicitly approves the government’s exercise of its executive powers.(31) To withdraw support or deny a supply bill would be difficult, however, in view of a government majority and the claims of party loyalty. Furthermore, as the Senate committee notes: “denying funds to the Government and withdrawing confidence are rather blunt instruments for expressing dissenting views on such issues. Moreover, the opportunities for scrutiny and dissent that are offered by the Supply process cannot always be used in an effective or timely fashion. In the case of Kosovo, for example, it was only in November 1999, five months after the action had ended, that Parliament had an opportunity to vote funds expressly earmarked for that operation.”(32)
Alternatively, Parliament can be involved in decisions to deploy Canadian Forces by other means, for example, through hearings in committees and briefings by public officials. (It has been noted that committee activity has increased since 1969.)(33) Standing committees have already been used as a forum for more ample debate on international deployments. For example, in April 1998, a special joint meeting of the House standing committees on foreign affairs and defence was held to discuss possible Canadian participation in a peacekeeping force in the Central African Republic. As a member of the government explained: “This option was chosen because of the need to make a decision and deploy troops as rapidly as humanly possible. Both ministers attended the special meeting and a unanimous resolution in favour of Canadian assistance was adopted.”(34)
In addition, the Department of National Defence (DND) makes available a monthly update of its D PK POL Peace Support Operations SITREP. This non-classified document identifies those peace support operations since 1945 to which the Canadian Forces have provided personnel, their role, and the size and duration of the commitment. It also mentions operations in which Canada has chosen not to participate. Regular reporting by the Department to, and scrutiny of this list in, the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs and the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, as well as the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence and the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, would ensure some awareness among parliamentarians of Canada’s military commitments overseas. The Department has also begun to offer occasional operational briefings which may be of interest to committee members and, indeed, all parliamentarians. (Transcripts of these briefings are available on the DND Web site.)
Finally, the House committees regularly review their respective departments’ Main Estimates. This exercise provides an excellent opportunity to scrutinize departmental planning and budgeting, and to comment accordingly. In its April 2000 report, the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs acknowledged the importance of this and recommended that it be afforded the same opportunity.(35)
In a February 2004 paper, Douglas L. Bland and Roy Rempel proposed some specific reforms for security and defence committees. These included having the parliamentarians assigned to these committees undergo security clearance procedures and having experienced military officers appointed to the committees to assist in research projects. Professors Bland and Rempel noted that such reforms would require political cooperation in the national interest.(36)
In 1999, Professor Bland commented on the view that “Canadian politicians are not interested in defence policy. Neither are they conversant with nor much interested in the Canadian Forces, except in a kind of folksy regard one has for the family pet.”(37) The vibrant debate over Parliament’s role in the international deployment of the Canadian Forces, however, suggests that Canadian politicians want very much to have a say in how the military is used to fulfil Canada’s foreign policy. Furthermore, it is ultimately the responsibility of Parliament to hold the government accountable for its decisions, including those related to military operations.(38)
Evidently, practice has been inconsistent on this matter. Even the current practice of holding take‑note debates, which do not involve a vote, is applied erratically and without a clear rationale. Professor Nossal concluded that:
The historical record suggests that the Canadian legislature is simply not well positioned to participate in such decisions [on the deployment of Canadian Forces]. And suggests that members of Parliament should reconcile themselves to the essentially ex post facto role that Canadian parliaments have historically played in this respect: in other words, to assess, via debate and discussion, executive decisions already taken. The element of discussion is crucial, for the putting of different views, and the subjection of particular perspectives to critical analysis, all combine to make better policy.(39)
Indeed, constitutional requirements are not likely to change. As long as a majority government holds power and opposes a mandatory vote, it is improbable that any attempt at change will succeed (unless it is initiated by the governing party itself). This does not preclude greater parliamentary involvement through other means, such as scrutiny in committees, review of the Estimates, and so forth. In addition, recent changes implemented by the government have moved toward greater all-party involvement and input on deployment of forces (although not always before a decision is made).
As a minimum, Members of Parliament and Senators can insist that they be provided with as much information on engagement as possible – on the mandate, terms and objectives of a mission, risk factors, number of Canadian troops to be employed, duration, cost, other participants, and Canada’s interest in the region – before any debate takes place. “Effective oversight need not derive from Parliament micro-management of Cabinet. Rather, the key to effective oversight is proper information to Parliament.”(40) One thing is certain: the debate will continue.
To analyze parliamentary input into the international deployment of Canadian Forces, a number of criteria must be established to distinguish between such cases as recent military action involving the Canadian Forces in Kosovo under NATO and peacekeeping operations under United Nations auspices. With regard to the type of tasks carried out, the NATO-led mission in Kosovo would be more appropriately grouped with the Persian Gulf War, the Korean War, and World Wars I and II, in which Canadian military personnel were used for combat, as opposed to exclusively neutral or humanitarian, tasks. Similar criteria have been applied to distinguish Canadian participation in Somalia under the United States-led UNITAF (Unified Task Force) from the UN-led UNOSOM (United Nations Operation in Somalia). One could assume that Parliament’s oversight of combat deployments would be more significant.
Under the government of Wilfrid Laurier, Cabinet decided in October 1899 on Canadian participation in the Boer War. Parliament had no role in this decision.(2)
Britain declared war on 4 August 1914. Under the government of Robert Borden, by orders in council on 6 and 10 August (while the House of Commons was not sitting), Canada made a commitment to send an expeditionary force to Europe. Subsequently, Prime Minister Borden reconvened Parliament early to hold a special war session from 18 to 22 August 1914. During this special session, the House “unanimously confirmed the actions of the executive” by debating and adopting a motion to approve the Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne presented on 18 August, which had indicated “the measures the government would take to deal with the war.”(3)
In his testimony before the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Professor Nossal noted that “in August 1918, the Borden government authorized the dispatch of a field artillery brigade … and in October 1918 the government approved the sending of a force of some 4,000 men to Siberia. In neither case was Parliament consulted by the Borden government, and no debate of the Canadian intervention in Russia took place.”(4) Some might argue that this incident was an offshoot of the Great War, which had already been debated in the House of Commons, and thus did not require further consultation with Parliament.
Conversely, “in 1923, Prime Minister W.L. Mackenzie King declared that only Parliament should ultimately decide on Canadian participation in foreign conflicts”:(5)
It is for Parliament to decide whether or not we should participate in wars in different parts of the world, and it is neither right nor proper for any individual nor for any groups of individuals to take any step which in any way might limit the rights of Parliament in a matter which is of such great concern to all the people of our country.(6)
In keeping with this assertion, Cabinet, although it had decided that Canada would side with Britain, agreed on 24 August 1939 that no firm decision would be made before war actually broke out.(7)
When the war started in Europe, Parliament was not in session and was not scheduled to return before 2 October; however, it resumed sitting on 7 September 1939. As in 1914, the Governor General read a Speech from the Throne, and Parliament debated an Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne. During this debate, which began on 8 September, Prime Minister Mackenzie King explained that Parliament’s approval of the Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne would pave the way for a formal declaration of war.
The motion to adopt the Address was passed in the Senate, while the House of Commons continued debate on the motion and adopted it late in the evening of 9 September. No specific timeframe for declarations of war or similar statements was set by the course followed in 1939, but the practice of having both Houses of Parliament adopt an Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne was confirmed, and a new precedent was set for the sequence of events leading up to the issuance of the order in council. In 1914, the order in council had been proclaimed the day the war started, and parliamentary debate followed; in 1939, however, parliamentary debate preceded the order in council declaring war. This was the procedure followed when war was declared on Italy in 1940.(8)
Subsequent declarations of war by Canada during World War II (against Japan, Hungary, Romania and Finland) took place without any parliamentary debate, as they were considered “all part of the same war.” “The Debates of the House of Commons do not indicate that the opposition objected to the fact that Parliament had not been reconvened to adopt motions concerning the declarations of war on Japan, Hungary, Romania and Finland. Indeed, there was generally little criticism of the process the government followed to indicate formally that Canada was at war.”(9)
Although the declarations of war during World Wars I and II established a number of parliamentary precedents, a completely different set of circumstances has prevailed since 1945, when the United Nations Charter was signed; Canada has participated in a number of international conflicts, but has never declared war. The process through which this came about can be understood by looking at how Canada became involved in the Korean conflict between 1950 and 1953.
Following North Korea’s invasion of South Korea on 25 June 1950, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution requesting member countries of the UN to assist South Korea in dealing with North Korean aggression and to re-establish peace in the region. On 26 June, the then Secretary of State for External Affairs, L. B. Pearson, made a statement in the House of Commons concerning the Korean situation and read into the record the text of the Security Council resolution.(10)
On 27 June, following the UN decision to respond to the invasion with force, the Canadian Cabinet met. Shortly thereafter, the Prime Minister invited opposition leaders into a special conference, an unusual development. Subsequently, on 29 June, after a full debate in the House of Commons, all but one MP supported the government’s decision to join in the multilateral use of force.(11)
On 30 June, Prime Minister St. Laurent, commenting on the Korean situation and the Security Council resolution, said:
Any participation by Canada in carrying out the foregoing resolution – and I wish to emphasize this strongly – would not be participation in war against any state. It would be our part in collective police action under the control and authority of the United Nations for the purpose of restoring peace to an area where an aggression has occurred as determined under the charter of the United Nations by the security council, which decision has been accepted by us.
I would add, however, that if we are informed that a Canadian contribution to aid United Nations operations, under a United Nations commander, would be important to achieve the ends of peace, which is of course our only purpose, then the government wishes parliament to know that it would immediately consider making such a contribution.(12)
In short, the Prime Minister made it clear that Canada was ready to send military personnel and equipment to help South Korea deal with the aggression if the United Nations considered such action necessary. Canada would not have to declare war on North Korea.(13)
When Parliament returned on 29 August 1950, it was for a special session that dealt with a national railroad strike, as well as with the situation in South Korea; however, the Speech from the Throne made it clear that the Korean situation was the main purpose. The Canadian government wanted a rapid expansion of Canada’s military forces as a whole, as well as an increase in the number of Canadian personnel involved in the Korean police action. Thus, the government introduced new legislation, including the Canadian Forces Act to amend the National Defence Act, and the Defence Appropriation Act to increase the defence budget.
The special session of Parliament did not, however, debate or pass a motion specifically dealing with the government’s decision concerning Canadian participation in UN police action in Korea. Indeed, during debate on the Canadian Forces Act, an opposition Member asked the Prime Minister if there would be a resolution authorizing the sending of troops to Korea. Mr. St. Laurent replied:
No, sir; that would be something which has never been done. The government announces to parliament what its policy is, and asks parliament for the ways and means to carry it out. It is for that reason that we have our appropriation bill. If parliament does not authorize the ways and means to carry out the policy, it cannot be carried out.(14)
The Defence Appropriation Act was passed by Parliament, thereby authorizing the ways and means for the government to carry out its policy on the Korean conflict.(15)
Because the measures taken against Iraq, like those against North Korea in 1950, did not require Canada to declare war, it was not necessary for Parliament to debate a declaration of war. It was also within the powers of the government, without recalling Parliament, to authorize other actions taken by Canada shortly after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.
For example, when on 6 August 1990 the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 661, which made it mandatory for UN members to impose strict economic sanctions on Iraq, the Canadian government did so by invoking the United Nations Act, which stipulates only that any orders and regulations made under it will be tabled as soon as Parliament returns.(16)
However, on 23 October 1990, the House of Commons approved a motion affirming support for the “sending of members, vessels and aircraft of the Canadian Forces to participate in the multinational military effort in and around the Arabian Peninsula.”(17) Then, on 29 November 1990, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 678, authorizing the use of force against Iraq after a 47-day “pause for peace” (ending 15 January 1991). That same day, the House of Commons passed a further motion supporting “the United Nations in its efforts to ensure compliance with Security Council resolution 660 and subsequent resolutions.”(18)
Finally, as the 15 January 1991 deadline approached, the government recalled Parliament from recess for an emergency debate on a government motion to “reaffirm [the House of Commons’] support of the United Nations in ending the aggression by Iraq against Kuwait.”(19) The debate focused on whether Canada should participate in a non-UN-led mission, especially one that was offensive in nature. Opposition parties questioned the merits of the United Nations’ aggressive response to the Iraq/Kuwait situation, because it had failed to act at all in other similar circumstances. The non-government parties also claimed that it was premature to wage war before all other options (sanctions, diplomatic negotiations, etc.) had been exhausted. The official opposition even attempted (unsuccessfully) to amend the government’s motion “to exclude offensive military action by Canada at [that] time.”(20) However, the debate was made moot with the United States’ initiation of hostilities on 16 January. Despite this, all parties agreed to allow the debate to continue. The government’s original motion was passed unchanged on 22 January 1991. By this time, all parties had stated their support for the Canadian troops in the Gulf (while urging the government to pursue an end to the conflict).(21)
Although there was no formal declaration of war, Parliament debated Canada’s participation in the Persian Gulf conflict and passed motions approving the measures taken in accordance with United Nations police action. Parliament was also advised that CF personnel had been placed on active service. The procedure followed was not exactly the one used in 1950 for the other UN police action, but in 1990-1991, Parliament passed specific motions and was thus more directly involved.
The need for motions to reaffirm previous motions in 1990-1991 arose from the complexity of the Persian Gulf issue and the controversy it generated. The fact that a further resolution was called for “in the event of the outbreak of hostilities involving Canadian Forces,” even though the military personnel had already been placed on active service, created an important precedent. Parliament passed not only a motion to approve the government measures (such as deploying troops) taken to deal with the conflict, but also a motion to approve the actual participation of CF personnel already in the combat zone.(22)
The United Nations Security Council approved, by Resolution 794, a United States-led enforcement mission to Somalia (UNITAF) on 3 December 1992. This effectively changed the mandate of UNOSOM (the preceding peacekeeping mission) and approved the use of force.
The next day, a member of the Opposition called for debate in the House of Commons before the government made its final decision. The Secretary of State for External Affairs answered that the government would make an announcement reflecting its decision later that day and that, thereafter, there would be “a discussion in Parliament as to the implications of that decision.”(23)
Three days later, another opposition MP stated that “a decision to send troops into a war zone is a major one that should be debated by Parliament before the fact” and that “this decision [on Canadian participation in UNITAF] was made without consulting Parliament, without debate.”(24) To this, the Secretary of State for External Affairs replied that:
[I]t is the government’s responsibility to formulate and make decisions on major issues, such as the situation in Somalia, … to take decisions in a timely way … and our prerogative to do that.(25)
However, later the same day, the government held a special debate and moved to “affirm [the House of Commons] support … for Canadian participation in the multinational effort … in Somalia.”(26) The motion passed.
During the debate, the opposition parties questioned what Canada’s commitment involved, whether the Canadian troops would be fully supported and properly equipped, and whether the government had explored a long-term solution to the conflict. Although they ultimately supported the UN decision, as well as Canadian participation in the mission, they opposed what had taken place within Parliament. One Member suggested that Canada “need[ed] to have either a combined committee of the Senate and the House or a combined defence and external affairs committee … a standing institutionalized system of parliamentary watch on this operation” and others.(27)
The government first consulted the House of Commons on the situation in Kosovo on 30 September 1998, when it moved that the House “[express] its profound dismay and sorrow concerning the atrocities being suffered by the civilian population in Kosovo and [… call] on the Government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the parties involved in this inhumane confrontation to put down arms immediately and start negotiating a solution.”(28) The motion was agreed to, although not put to a vote.
A week later, on 7 October 1998, the government held a take-note debate in which the House noted “the dire humanitarian situation confronting the people of Kosovo and the government’s intention to take measures in cooperation with the international community to resolve the conflict, promote a political settlement for Kosovo and facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance to refugees.”(29) At that time, the opposition parties questioned the government about how far it intended to go, what dangers the Canadian troops would face, whether they were ready and properly equipped for another operation, and whether the international community (or even the Canadian government itself) had developed a long-term plan or established its political and military objectives. Members also expressed concern about the legality of any action that had not been authorized by the United Nations and the possible negative implications of such action on the international organization. As this would be the first time that Canada had participated in a foreign conflict without UN authorization since the organization’s creation in 1945, many Members would have preferred to await a resolution in the Security Council.
When questioned further about the possibility of military action, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lloyd Axworthy, stated that he did “not think it would be very appropriate … to outline what the steps [of military action by NATO] would be until the decisions [were] taken.”(30) Indeed, the wording of the government’s motion left the term “measures” undefined so that the possibility of military involvement was neither specified nor excluded. In a later debate, one opposition MP would note that the government used this debate “to claim it was entitled to take part in air strikes” with the House’s support, although he did not believe this to be a valid assertion.(31)
A second take-note debate took place on 17 February 1999, when the House noted the possibility of “Canadian peace-keeping activities in Kosovo.”(32) The debate focused on peacekeeping and did not contemplate the combative role the Canadian Forces eventually played in the confrontation.
After NATO airstrikes began in Kosovo on 24 March 1999, opposition Members berated the military and the government in general, specifically the Minister of National Defence, for not holding briefings and a debate on the escalating situation. The Prime Minister subsequently announced to the House that the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of National Defence had discussed the situation with the respective parties’ critics.(33) Later that day, following a joint statement by both ministers,(34) each party’s critic made a statement. The discussion focused on what would happen next and whether Canadian troops would become further involved. The opposition parties sought assurances for the safety of CF personnel and the adequacy of their equipment for the tasks they would be given. They also pressed the role of Parliament in the whole issue and demanded that the House of Commons be consulted in the event that the situation escalated (for example, if ground troops were to become involved). The earlier debates in November and February had not dealt with future escalations.
Regular briefings were held at DND, and officials from DND and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) presented weekly (and sometimes twice-weekly) updates and took questions at combined meetings of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs. The government held a third take-note debate on 12 April 1999, asserting “the government’s determination to work with the international community in order to resolve the conflict and promote a just political situation that leads to the safe return of the refugees.”(35) At that time, the Minister of National Defence made the commitment “that if there were any substantive change in terms of [Canada’s] involvement in this matter [… the government] would come back to the House for discussion.”(36)
A week later, during Question Period on 19 April 1999, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien asserted that “depending on the nature of the request [i.e., to deploy Canadian ground troops in Kosovo under NATO], I will advise if we should or should not have a vote.”(37) In other words, while the Prime Minister reserved the right to decide whether a vote would be held, he did not rule out the possibility. Ultimately, ground troops were never requested and no other take-note debate was held, nor any vote.
In the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., the House of Commons held a number of debates on responding to terrorism. These took place on government motions – including a motion to take note of international actions against terrorism – as well as on Opposition Day motions. Among the latter, the House debated a Bloc Québécois motion that would have required the House of Commons to vote on committing Canadian armed forces to any reprisal against the terrorist strikes.
When the House of Commons returned from its summer recess on 17 September 2001, it held a special debate on a motion that called on the House to, among other things, “reaffirm its commitment to the humane values of free and democratic society and its determination to bring to justice the perpetrators of this attack on these values and to defend civilization from any future terrorist attack.”(38) On 18 September, the House debated a Canadian Alliance motion on anti-terrorism legislation. On 20 September, the House in committee of the whole engaged in a take-note debate on the upcoming meeting between the Prime Minister and the President of the United States. During this debate, both the leader of the Bloc Québécois and the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party called on the government to consult Parliament before making international military commitments.
The question of consulting Parliament was itself the subject of an Opposition Day debate on 25 September, when the Bloc Québécois moved:
That this House urge the government, in any reprisals taken in reaction to the terrorist strikes in New York on September 11, not to commit Canadian armed forces in any offensive action until the House of Commons has been consulted and has voted on the matter.(39)
Michel Gauthier of the Bloc Québécois argued that Parliament should not only be consulted, but should also vote on Canadian participation in any military action. The then Minister of National Defence, Art Eggleton, agreed that Parliament should be consulted, but would not agree to a vote in the House on committing the Canadian armed forces because “it is ultimately the responsibility of the Government of Canada to make the decisions for which it must be accountable to parliament and the people of Canada.”(40)
On 2 October, NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson confirmed that the terrorist attacks were covered by Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which provides that if a NATO Ally is the victim of an armed attack, each and every other member of the Alliance will consider this act of violence as an armed attack against all members.(41) Later that day, the House engaged in an Opposition Day debate on a New Democratic Party motion that, in part, called upon the government to table its report on the steps it would take to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1373, which outlined strategies to combat international terrorism.(42)
On 7 October, while Parliament was not sitting, Prime Minister Chrétien announced that Canada would contribute to the international force being formed to conduct the campaign against terrorism.(43) At the same time, he announced that a take-note debate would be held in Parliament when it resumed sitting on 15 October.
Immediately prior to the take-note debate, an Opposition Day debate took place on a Progressive Conservative Party motion that read:
That this House reaffirm its condemnation of the terrorist attacks against our NATO ally, the United States of America, on September 11, 2001, and affirm its support for Canada’s courageous men and women in the Canadian Forces who are responding to defend freedom and democracy in the international military coalition against terrorism; andThat this House hereby order the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs to sit frequently, including joint meetings with ministers and officials of the government and the military.(44)
The House agreed to the motion by a vote of 213 to 10. Then the House in committee of the whole debated the government motion that read: “That the Committee take note of the international actions against terrorism.” In opening the debate, Prime Minister Chrétien noted there had been more than 40 hours of substantial debate in the House, as well as debate in committees. He then outlined the specific steps the government was taking, including the execution of Operation Apollo, which he described as the largest deployment of Canadian armed forces since the Korean War, involving over 2,000 men and women.(45)
On 19 November 2001, the then Minister of National Defence, Art Eggleton, made a statement updating the House on the Canadian Forces’ contribution to the international campaign against terrorism and said that Canada proposed contributing some 1,000 members, including the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (3 PPCLI). Members of the opposition parties then commented on the statement. Once again, the Bloc Québécois noted that troops had been deployed without a vote in the House.(46)
In January 2002, the government agreed to a U.S. request for a contingent of soldiers to be deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan. Canada deployed the 3 PPCLI Battle Group, which had previously been on standby. This significantly increased the number of CF personnel involved in Operation Apollo, and on 28 January – the day Parliament returned from its Christmas recess – the House in committee of the whole debated a government motion that read: “That this Committee take note of the deployment of Canadian Forces personnel in Afghanistan.”(47) Later, on 1 March and 13 March, the Minister of National Defence responded in Question Period to enquiries about operations and deployments in Afghanistan.
On 9 November 2005, the then Minister of National Defence, Bill Graham, announced that the government was increasing Canada’s military commitment to Afghanistan. The previous month, a Provincial Reconstruction Team consisting of 250 CF personnel as well as police officers and government officials had been established in Kandahar. In addition, beginning in February 2006, a Task Force of about 1,000 troops would be deployed into Kandahar for one year. This would bring the number of CF personnel in Afghanistan to 2,300.
Several debates followed on 15 November 2005, the House in Committee of the Whole debated a government motion that read: “That this Committee take note of Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan.” On 10 April 2006, the House in Committee of the Whole debated a government motion that read: “That this Committee take note of Canada’s significant commitment in Afghanistan.”
On 16 May 2006, following consultations with the opposition parties, the government obtained unanimous consent for a motion that on the following day, the House would consider a government motion that would “support the government’s two year extension of Canada’s deployment of diplomatic, development, civilian police and military personnel in Afghanistan and the provision of funding and equipment for this extension.” Debate would be limited to six hours, followed by a vote.(48)
When the debate took place on 17 May, some members of the opposition parties complained about the suddenness of the debate and the fact that it was being held before the Standing Committee on National Defence had had a chance to study the matter. Prime Minister Stephen Harper responded that members of various parties in the House had requested a vote and that the opposition parties were aware of the details of the engagement in Afghanistan. Following six hours of debate, the motion was carried by a vote of 149 to 145.(49)
B. Other Operations: Peace Support, etc.
The changing nature of peace support operations means that they are more complex and often more dangerous than traditional peacekeeping. One can make distinctions between operations according to the size of the deployment, the proximity of CF personnel to combat zones, and the resulting level of risk. In addition, particularly with regard to missions that span several years (even decades), it is important to consider that CF contingents may have been augmented significantly or tasked with different responsibilities at various times – as is the case in the former Yugoslavia. Such changes would, one assumes, be of as much interest to Parliament as proposed involvement at the onset of an operation, and would require equal debate. Recent precedent seems to confirm this assumption.
The analysis below is not by any means exhaustive; Canada has been involved in more than 40 peace support and related operations since 1945. The sample cases serve only to highlight the different approaches to parliamentary involvement in the authorization of international deployment of Canadian Forces. Appendix 2 to this paper lists Canadian military participation in peace operations since the end of World War II, and notes whether and when those deployments were formally debated in the House of Commons.
Furthermore, to establish unequivocally whether Parliament has (1) been consulted before or after a decision to deploy and (2) voted on the deployment of CF personnel, one would need to know the exact dates of commitment of forces and/or deployment. Unfortunately, this information is not readily available from the Department of National Defence(50) and, as a result, in many cases it is impossible to determine whether a debate or vote occurred prior to deployment. Consequently, analysis focuses more on the wording of the motion before the House (if any was presented) and the content of the debates.
1. Creation of the United Nations (1945) to October 1993
Although the UN Charter does not oblige Canada to participate,(51) Canada has a strong tradition of providing personnel and resources to UN operations. Canada has also been active in numerous other international efforts to restore or maintain, monitor and reinforce peace in many parts of the world.
a. Indochina Commissions
Following the war in Korea, Canada was nominated to serve on the three truce supervisory commissions. Without any reference to Parliament, the Canadian government committed itself to this service on 28 July 1954.(52)
b. Suez Canal
On 2 November 1954, while Parliament was not sitting, Prime Minister Pearson offered Canadian forces to the General Assembly for a peace mission in the Suez Canal. Subsequently, on 26 November, well after Pearson had fully committed the Canadian forces, the government convened a special four-day session of Parliament to consider the matter.(53)
According to Professor Nossal, Canada’s long involvement in Cyprus also began when Parliament was not sitting: in mid-February 1964, Prime Minister Pearson made a private commitment to the British prime minister, and forces were put in training.(54) Pearson had promised that no troops would be committed without parliamentary approval, however. Consequently, on 13 March 1964, he moved that the House of Commons “approve the participation of Canadian forces in the United Nations international force in Cyprus.”(55)
During the debate, the Leader of the Opposition, then John Diefenbaker, recalled the principle detailed in 1925 by Arthur Meighen – that Parliament should decide on the participation of Canadian troops abroad. He noted that, though this view had not been generally accepted, the current request for the House’s approval could be seen as a further step towards the establishment of the principle.(56) Ultimately, the motion was agreed to, on division. The House even went one step further to request concurrence from the Senate on the matter.(57)
However, Professor Nossal notes that Canadian troops had already been dispatched for service in Cyprus “fully two hours before the honourable members began debating the motion.”(58) Furthermore, the withdrawal of Canadian troops from the mission in December 1992 was also an exclusive decision by Cabinet, made without debate.
Between 28 January and 31 July 1973, Canada contributed 240 military personnel and 50 officials from the Department of External Affairs to Vietnam under the International Commission for Control and Supervision.
A review of the House of Commons Debates shows that the issue of Canada’s response to the situation in Vietnam was first raised on 4 January 1973, when Prime Minister Trudeau gave notice of the government’s intention “to have this matter debated in the House,” a motion to that effect having already been presented on notice.(59) Opposition parties welcomed his suggestion that the House leaders of the various parties meet to discuss the motion before the matter was debated. The text of that motion acknowledged the possibility “that Canada [would] be called upon to play some new supervisory role following the cessation of hostilities in Vietnam,” but neither explicitly stated nor sought House approval of Canadian participation.(60)
A few weeks later, during Question Period, the Hon. Mitchell Sharp (then Secretary of State for External Affairs) expressed his “intention to bring the matter before the House of Commons at least for debate,”(61) but reserved the right of the government to inform the House of its decision. Again, on 24 January, Mr. Sharp asserted that the government wanted the matter “to be discussed in Parliament” and would be introducing a resolution to provide for such a debate. At this time, he was careful to emphasize that Canadians would not “keep the peace,” but rather “observe,” “report” and, potentially, mediate.(62) Once again, however, Mr. Sharp indicated that the government reserved the right to dispatch Canadian personnel before the matter came before the House, if necessary, for expediency’s sake.(63) In fact, military and civilian personnel were deployed to Vietnam on 27 January before any formal debate in the House on that specific issue.
The issue was discussed at length on 1 February 1973; however, the motion proposed by Mr. Sharp did not request approval by the House and affirmed that the government had already committed (and indeed deployed) the personnel in question.(64) Mr. Sharp further asserted that the “House had already had the opportunity for a preliminary exchange of views before [the troops’] departure from Canada” and that “[w]hichever decision is made [by the Government] will be conveyed to this House” as opposed to debated or voted upon.(65) At that time, Members of the opposition recalled the 1964 action for the deployment of troops to Cyprus. One of them argued that “parliament, being the elected representative body of the nation as a whole, must have a voice – indeed a deciding voice – whenever there is proposed a long-term commitment of Canadian personnel overseas,” a principle which “goes back a long way in parliamentary history.”(66) Another commented on Parliament’s responsibility for the safety of Canadian personnel abroad. Yet another observed that, although he did not dispute that the government was required to act without consulting the House for expediency’s sake, he hoped that future developments of the mission, including its possible extension after the initial 60-day period, would be debated in advance of a government decision.(67) In vain, others called for, and continued on later dates to call for, a vote.(68) The resolution calling for a debate and vote was left dormant on the Order Paper.(69)
Later, when the government was considering withdrawing Canadian participation from the supervisory force, the opposition again asked for the matter to be brought to Parliament before a decision was taken. Again, the Secretary of State for External Affairs maintained that it was his intention, “as soon as the government makes a decision, to bring that decision before the House of Commons.”(70) In other words, he continued to assert Cabinet’s prerogative on the matter, i.e., the government is responsible for making a decision and for bringing it before the House only for consideration, not approval.
e. Golan Heights
In 1974, CF personnel were deployed in the Golan Heights under the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). This is one of Canada’s most consistent larger deployments, with the maximum contribution listed as 230 personnel and current Canadian involvement at approximately 190 personnel. However, although there seems to have been ample debate on the Canadian deployments under the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) I in 1956 and UNEF II (Sinai) in 1973,(71) no specific reference to UNDOF has been found in the House of Commons Debates.
f. “Desert Shield” (Embargo Enforcement in the Persian Gulf)
Following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait on 2 August 1990, Prime Minister Mulroney committed Canadian Forces to the operation during a dinner with U.S. President Bush on 6 August. According to Professor Nossal, Mr. Mulroney returned home the next day and “ordered preparations for Canadian Forces naval units to be committed to the multinational force taking shape. These decisions were taken without reference to the Minister of National Defence who was out of the country, or the Secretary of State for External Affairs who was out of Ottawa. When cabinet met on 8 August, […it] approved Mulroney’s commitment. The House was not in session, and Mulroney had no intention of calling it back [because of the domestic crisis at Oka].”(72) After the ships had already been committed, the government sought parliamentary approval in a debate on 24 September 1990, which was resumed on 17‑18 October. “When the vote did come a month or two later, it was not to authorize troops or ground involvement, it was simply a vote to endorse a UN resolution.”(73) Therefore, the current government has argued that this case does not create a precedent.
g. Somalia (UN-led)
Although debate in Parliament did address the deployment of some 1,300 CF personnel to Somalia under UNITAF in December 1992 (discussed above), the House never discussed an earlier deployment to the same country, whereby 750 military personnel were engaged under UNOSOM. This earlier commitment was simply announced by the Minister of National Defence on 28 August 1992. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence tabled an order in council (P.C. 1992-2006, dated 8 September) on 14 September 1992, placing the members of the Canadian Forces on active service for the United Nations operation in Somalia, without debate.
2. October 1993 to Present
a. Former Yugoslavia
The Canadian deployments to the former Yugoslavia have been by far the most debated international deployments in Canadian history. Canadian involvement in the numerous peace support missions to the Balkans – whether in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo or elsewhere, under the United Nations or under NATO – has been debated in the House of Commons no fewer than seven times in five years. More than 2,000 peacekeepers served in the Balkans with UNPROFOR and UNPF; still others served with UNCRO, UNPREDEP, UNMIBH, UNMOP, IFOR and SFOR.(74)
The first take-note debate, on 25 January 1994, examined “the political, humanitarian and military dimensions of Canada’s peacekeeping role, including in the former Yugoslavia, and of possible future direction in Canadian peacekeeping policy and operations.”(75) This debate came well after Canadian Forces had been deployed to the region under at least two separate missions since as early as February 1992, a fact that the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, André Ouellet, noted in his comments introducing the debate: “when the previous government decided to send troops to the former Yugoslavia, there was no debate, Parliament was not consulted.”(76) At that time, Minister Ouellet also stated that the debate was in line with his government’s “commitment to consult with members of Parliament before making any serious and momentous decisions.”(77) He then detailed the broad guidelines Canadian governments had used traditionally for decisions on whether to participate in a given peace mission, and which his government considered still valid:
There must be a clear, achievable mandate from a competent political authority, such as the Security Council.
The parties to the conflict must undertake to respect a cease-fire and must accept the presence of Canadian troops.
The number of troops and the international composition of the operation must be suited to the mandate.
The operation must be adequately funded and have a satisfactory logistical structure.(78)
To these guidelines, he added the level of risk incurred by Canadian soldiers. Following Ouellet’s assertion that “the views of the House and of the public generally are of critical importance to [the government’s] deliberations” on the future of its peacekeeping commitments,(79) the debate that ensued was wide-ranging, covering almost all aspects of the guidelines.
On 21 April 1994, the government initiated a second take-note debate. Further to NATO’s agreement in February to a UN request for air support to protect the safe area around Sarajevo, Parliament was asked to “consider the request contained in the UN Secretary General’s April 18 letter to [NATO] to extend arrangements … to the five other UN safe areas in Bosnia.”(80) In the course of the debate, the government found significant support among all parties for the request.
The third take-note debate on Canada’s commitment in the former Yugoslavia did not focus exclusively on that mission; Parliament was asked to note “Canada’s current and future international peacekeeping commitments in this world, with particular reference to the former Yugoslavia, Haiti and Rwanda.”(81) Again, because of the broad parameters given for the debate, the discussion was wide-ranging. The official opposition established its own criteria for evaluating the desirability of Canadian participation in peace support missions and concluded that the country should not have become involved in many missions then under way.(82) A related conclusion was that Canada needed to be more selective about when to participate, in line with our resources and capacities, particularly in view of the cost of overly ambitious operations to Canadian peacekeepers’ physical and mental health.
With the UNPROFOR mandate due to end on 31 March 1995, the House of Commons was asked on 29 March to “take note of the rotation of Canadian forces serving with UNPROFOR in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia.”(83) The then Minister of National Defence, David Collenette, opened the debate by stating that the government had yet to decide how it would proceed. Some members of the opposition complained that the debate was on such short notice that it could neither have a real impact on the government’s decision nor allow their parties to prepare properly for the discussion.(84) Nonetheless, the government appeared open to considering various options, from a renewal of its commitment to scaling back or withdrawing from the mission.
Later, an opposition Member requested an immediate emergency debate on the situation in Bosnia, where Canadian soldiers had been taken hostage. The government initially refused the request, but later relented. The debate of 29 May 1995 focused on whether and how to withdraw Canadian peacekeepers from that area.
On 4 December 1995, the House of Commons debated the Canadian contribution to the NATO-led IFOR, established to oversee implementation of the Dayton Peace Accord, which ended the Bosnian War.(85) Subsequently, on 6 December, the government announced Canada’s commitment. Professor Nossal notes, however, that “the government had already tentatively offered an infantry battalion and a headquarters unit at a NATO planning session the week before the parliamentary debate.”(86)
Almost two and a half years later, on 28 April 1998, the House of Commons was again asked to “take note” of the government’s intention “to renew its participation in the NATO-led stabilisation force (SFOR) in Bosnia beyond 20 June 1998.”(87) This debate took place well in advance of the proposed deadline and can realistically be considered to have informed the government’s decision on how to proceed.
On 9 February 1998, the House of Commons debated potential military action in response to Iraq’s refusal to comply with UN-authorized weapons inspections. The Prime Minister had assured Parliament that Canada would make no commitment until that public debate had taken place. However, in a confusing development, the U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, announced Canadian support for the mission, which would use substantial military force against Iraq, on 8 February, a full day before the matter was discussed in the House. The Prime Minister maintained that Ms. Albright had been misinformed.(88)
c. East Timor
On 15 September 1999, Prime Minister Chrétien announced that Canada would contribute up to 600 troops to a peacekeeping mission in East Timor (INTERFET), as well as humanitarian assistance. There was no prior debate in the House on this action (apart from Question Period). Two days later, ministers Lloyd Axworthy (DFAIT), Art Eggleton (DND), and Maria Minna, Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), testified on the situation in East Timor before a joint meeting of the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs and the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. DND announced that Canada’s contribution to INTERFET could consist of two Hercules transport aircraft (with 100 support crew, including four six-person crews), one supply ship (with 250 crew), and a reinforced infantry company of about 250 personnel and 40 light vehicles. The Minister further indicated that the incremental costs of deploying all three elements for a six-month period were estimated at $33 million, funds that he would need to seek from the central treasury. On 21 and 23 September 1999, the first groups of Canadian Forces personnel – the crews for the Hercules transporters and the HMCS Protecteur – deployed for East Timor. There was no formal debate on these deployments in the House of Commons.
d. Other Take-Note Debates
As mentioned above, Canada’s commitment to peace support missions in Haiti and Rwanda was debated under a general motion that included the former Yugoslavia, on 21 September 1994. During that discussion, some opposition members questioned the desirability of continuing Canada’s participation in these missions.
The debate on Canada’s commitment in Haiti was renewed on 28 February 1996 when the House was asked to “take note of Canada’s current and future international peacekeeping commitments in Haiti, with particular reference to Canada’s willingness to play a major role in the next phase.”(89) For the most part, all parties supported continued Canadian participation in peace efforts there.
Perhaps one of the most significant take-note debates was that concerning “Canada’s leadership role in the international community’s efforts to alleviate human suffering” in the Great Lakes region of Africa on 18 November 1996. Questions from the opposition parties focused on: the cost of the mission and whether Canada had an appropriate level of military capability to undertake it; whether there was international support, particularly in the destination country, for Canadian participation; what the exact mandate of the mission would be and what role Canadian peacekeepers would play under the rules of engagement; and whether the government had established a timeline and an exit strategy, should the need arise, as well as a rotation schedule to ensure the health of CF personnel. Although the mission ultimately did not materialize, this debate allowed for a thorough discussion of the facts and an exchange of related concerns.
There was also a debate on 17 February 1999, in which “possible changes in peacekeeping activities in the Central African Republic” were considered concurrently with the possibility of Canadian peacekeeping activities in Kosovo. One could argue that debates that address multiple missions, such as those of 21 September 1994 and 17 February 1999, do not allow for an in-depth analysis and discussion of the merits of each individual case.
In 2000, there was a take-note debate concerning the question of Canadian participation in the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE). On 18 June 2000, Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a cessation of hostilities agreement that called upon the UN to establish a peacekeeping mission. On 31 July, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1312 establishing UNMEE and in August, Canada agreed to contribute six CF members as military observers. In September, Canada was asked to contribute a more substantial number of troops as part of the multinational Stand-by High Readiness Brigade (SHIRBRIG). Consequently, a take-note debate on possible Canadian peacekeeping in Ethiopia and Eritrea was held in the House of Commons on 17 October 2000.(90) In November, it was announced that an additional 450 CF members would be deployed for six months.(91)
(1) Much of the information in this section, as it deals with the Persian Gulf War, the Korean War, and World Wars I and II, is taken from Rossignol (1992).(32) House of Commons, Debates, 17 February 1999, p. 12038. The House also noted, at the same time, “possible changes in peacekeeping activities in the Central African Republic.”(41) North Atlantic Treaty Organization, “What is Article 5?” NATO and the Scourge of Terrorism, 21 September 2001.(43) Department of National Defence, Backgrounder, “The Canadian Forces’ Contribution to the International Campaign Against Terrorism,” 13 November 2002.(70) House of Commons, Debates, 5 March 1973, p. 1881. See also 9 March 1973, pp. 2063-2064, 20 March 1973, p. 2386, and 27 March 1973, pp. 2639-2640.(74) UNPROFOR = United Nations Protection Force;
UNPF = United Nations Peace Forces;
UNCRO = United Nations Confidence Restoration Operation;
UNPREDEP = United Nations Preventative Deployment Force in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia;
UNMIBH = United Nations Mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina;
UNMOP = United Nations Mission of Observers in Prevlaka;
IFOR = NATO Implementation Force;
SFOR = NATO Stabilization Force.(90) Department of National Defence, Backgrounder, “Canadian Forces Peacekeeping Contribution to the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE),” 21 November 2000.(91) Department of National Defence, News Release, “Canadian Forces deploy Peacekeepers to the UN mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea,” 21 November 2000.
Canadian Military Participation in Peace Operations Since World War II Mission Location Year Month Personnel No. Debate Hansard Details of Debate Vote Date Details of Vote United Nations Temporary Commission in Korea (UNTCOK) South Korea 1947 United Nations
military observers (UNMOs)
2 NO United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) Kashmir 1949 01 Military
36 NO 09/02/49 Written question responded to. United Nations Command Korea Korea 1950 Military
6,146 YES Order in council (OIC) tabled on 9 September 1950. Debated indirectly in the context of the reply to the Speech from the Throne (04/09), a defence appropriation bill, and amendments to the National Defence Act (08/09). United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) Middle East 1954 Military
11 NO International Commission for Supervision and Control (ICSC) Indochina 1954 Military
133 NO Mentioned in Speech from the Throne 07/01/55 (after deployment). Mentioned in the debate on the Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne 07/01, 17/01, 21/01 and 26/01; also in the debate on supply on 25/03/55. United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF I) Sinai 1956 11 Military
1,007 YES 26/11/56 OIC issued on 20 November 1956. Parliament was recalled for a special session that ran from 26/11/56 to 08/01/57 to debate approved funds for the UNEF. 29/11/56 Vote on an appropriation bill specific to the UNEF. United Nations Observation Group in Lebanon (UNOGIL) Lebanon 1958 06 UNMOs 77 NO 22/07/58 Statement in the House and comments from other parties (after commitment made and initial deployment). Question in Question Period on 23/07 and further statement on 31/07. Organisation des Nations unies au Congo (ONUC) Congo 1960 07 CF
421 YES 01/08/60 Debated before deployment. Prime Minister Diefenbaker announced the decision to send troops to the Congo and tabled OIC in the House. The next day the House unanimously approved Canadian participation in the Congo. Recorded vote to approve government’s decision to deploy troops. No division. United Nations Security Force in West New Guinea (UNSF) West New
1962 10 RCAF
13 NO 15/10/62 Questions in Question Period. United Nations Yemen Observation Mission (UNYOM) Yemen 1963 07 CF personnel
36 NO 13/06/63 Statement by the Secretary of State for External Affairs and comments by other parties. United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) Cyprus 1964 CF
1,150 YES 13/03/64 Debated before deployment. On 05/06/75, it was mentioned in the debate on supply that the contingent had been increased as a result of the Turkish invasion in July 1974. 13/03/64 Motion agreed to. No recorded vote. Mission of the Representative of the Secretary-General in the Dominican Republic (DOMREP) Dominican
1965 05 UNMO 1 NO 28/05/65 Mentioned in debate on supply. United Nations India-Pakistan Observer Mission (UNIPOM) India and
1965 09 CF
112 NO 17/02/66 Mentioned in debate on supply. Observer Team Nigeria (OTN) Nigeria 1968 09 Military
2 NO Questions in Question Period on 13/09/68 and 24/09/68. Raised at proceedings on the adjournment motion on 24/09 (after deployment of initial observer). On 7/10/68, there was a motion that the Nigerian situation be considered by a House committee. United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF II) Middle East 1973 10 CF
1,145 YES 14/11/73 Debated before deployment. There was also a question during adjournment proceedings on 18/11/75 about increasing the Canadian commitment. 15/11/73 Motion agreed to. No recorded vote. International Commission for Control and Supervision (ICCS) Vietnam 1973 01 CF
248 YES 24/01/73 Statement by Minister and comments by other parties (before deployment); also questions in Question Period. There was also an extensive debate on 01/02 on a motion noting the participation of Canada in the ICCS. United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) Middle East 1974 05 CF
190 NO 05/06/75 Mentioned in supply debate. UNDOF was largely an extension of UNEF. United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Lebanon 1978 03 CF
117 NO 21/03/78 Deployed without debate. A point of order was raised and questions were asked in the House on 22/03 and 12/04. Multinational Force and Observers Middle East 1986 03 CF
140 NO Questions in Question Period 14/03 and 27/03/85. United Nations Iran-Iraq Military Observer Group (UNIIMOG) Iran and
1988 05 CF
525 YES 24/08/88 Debated after deployment. OIC tabled. 24/08/88 Motion agreed to (no division). United Nations Good Offices Mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan (UNGOMAP) Afghanistan and
1988 08 UNMOs 5 NO 2 S.O. 21 Statements 19/04 and 2/05/88. Mentioned in debate 24/08/88. United Nations Observer Group in Central America (ONUCA) Central America 1989 04 CF
174 YES 09/02/90 Statement by Minister and comments by other parties, after deployment. OIC tabled. United Nations Transition Assistance Group Namibia (UNTAG) Namibia 1989 11 CF
301 YES 12/04/89 Statement by Minister and comments by other parties, after commitment made but before deployment. OIC tabled 12/04/89. Operation FRICTION/SCIMITAR (Persian Gulf War) Kuwait 1990 Three ships and
a squadron of CF‑18s
2,700 YES 24/09/90 Debated after deployment. 23/10/90 Votes agreeing to Resolutions on 30/10/90, 29/11/90, and 22/01/91. United Nations Mission for the Verification of the Elections in Haiti (ONUVEH) Haiti 1990 03 UNMOs 11 NO Office of the Secretary-General in Afghanistan and Pakistan (OSGAP) Afghanistan and
1990 11 Military
1 NO United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) Iraq 1991 CF
3 NO United Nations Observer Mission in El Salvador (ONUSAL) El Salvador 1991 04 CF
55 NO United Nations Angola Verification Mission II (UNAVEM II) Angola 1991 05 UNMOs 15 NO United Nations Advance Mission in Cambodia (UNAMIC) Cambodia 1991 07 UNMOs 7 NO OIC 1992-355 tabled 28/02/92. United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) Western
1991 07 CF
35 NO OIC 1992-2115 tabled 28/02/92. United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission (UNIKOM) Kuwait 1991 11 UNMOs 5 NO European Community Monitoring Mission in the Former Yugoslavia (ECMMY) Yugoslavia 1992 CF
48 YES 18/11/91 Deployed without debate (but previous emergency debate about situation in Yugoslavia). United Nations Operation in Mozambique (ONUMOZ) Mozambique 1992 01 UNMOs 4 NO United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM) Somalia 1992 02 Advance
YES 07/12/92 Debated after commitment made. (See UNITAF, below.) United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) Balkans 1992 02 CF
2,000 NO OIC 1992-354 tabled 28/2/92. Rotation of forces debated 29/03/95. Maritime Interdiction Force (MIF) Red Sea 1992 02 One naval vessel
NO Statement under S.O. 31 on 24/02/92. Unified Task Force (UNITAF) Somalia 1992 12 CF
1,250 YES 07/12/92 OIC 1992-2006 tabled 14/09/92. Special debate after commitment made. 08/12/92 Motion passed on division. United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) Cambodia 1992 12 CF
personnel plus 121 civilians and 50 electoral observers
240 NO United Nations Committee of Experts (UNCOE) 1992 12 Legal officers and military police officers 7 NO United Nations Observer Mission Uganda-Rwanda (UNOMUR) Uganda and
1993 UNMOs 3 YES 21/04/94 Take-note debate on Canadian commitments in Yugoslavia, Haiti, and Rwanda (after deployment). Enforcement of the No-Fly Zone over Bosnia-Herzegovina Bosnia-
13 YES 25/01/94 Take-note debate on peacekeeping role in former Yugoslavia. Enforcement of the United Nations Embargo of the Former Republic of Yugoslavia 1993 One frigate NO United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) Rwanda 1993 CF
112 YES 21/09/94 Take-note debate on Canadian commitments in Yugoslavia, Haiti, and Rwanda (after deployment). United Nations Operation in Somalia II (UNOSOM II) Somalia 1993 03 CF
9 YES 21/09/94 Take-note debate on Canadian commitments in Yugoslavia, Haiti, and Rwanda (after deployment). Haiti Embargo Enforcement Haiti 1993 06 CF
250 YES 21/09/94 Take-note debate on Canadian commitments in Yugoslavia, Haiti, and Rwanda (after deployment). Also question in Question Period on 19/09/94. Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) Cambodia 1993 09 CF
7 NO Mentioned in S.O. 31 statement on 24/02/94. United Nations Mission in Haiti (UNMIH) Haiti 1993 10 Military personnel and 100 civilian police 750 YES 21/09/94 Take-note debate on Canadian commitments in Yugoslavia, Haiti, and Rwanda. Military Observer Group Dominican Republic Dominican
1994 Observers 15 NO Mentioned in Question Period on 25/05/94. Provision of Humanitarian Aid to Rwanda Rwanda 1994 Military
247 YES 21/09/94 Take-note debate on Canadian commitments in Yugoslavia, Haiti, and Rwanda. United Nations Preventative Deployment Force in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (UNPREDEP) Former Yugoslav
Republic of Macedonia
1995 Officer 1 YES 29/03/95 Take-note debate on rotation of troops with UNPROFOR. Also emergency debate on the situation in Bosnia on 29/05/95. OSCE Peacekeeping Mission Vienna-Nagorny-Karabakh Azerbaijan 1995 Staff officers 3 NO NATO Implementation Force (IFOR) Former
1,029 YES 04/13/95 Take-note debate on participation in IFOR. United Nations Mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina (UNMIBH) Bosnia-
1995 03 CF
2 NO Maritime Interdiction Force (MIF) – Arabian Gulf Arabian Gulf 1995 12 One naval vessel (HMCS Calgary) NO African Great Lakes Multinational Force Zaire 1996 CF
354 YES 18/11/96 Take-note debate on situation in Great Lakes region of Africa. United Nations Support Mission in Haiti (UNSMIH) Haiti 1996 CF
personnel and civilian police
750 YES 28/02/96 Take-note debate on peacekeeping commitments in Haiti (after deployment). United Nations Mission of Observers in Prevlaka (UNMOP) Croatia 1996 01 CF
1 NO NATO Stabilization Force (SFOR) Bosnia-
1996 07 CF
1,300 YES 28/04/98 Take-note debate on renewing participation. Sarajevo Airlift Bosnia-
1996 12 CF
48 NO Canadian Air Contingent Bosnia-Herzegovina Bosnia-
112 YES 28/04/98 Take-note debate on renewing participation. United Nations Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) Guatemala 1997 01 UNMOs and civilian police 15 NO Mission de Police des Nations unies en Haïti (MIPONUH) Haiti 1997 02 Six vehicles, driving instructors and technicians YES 28/02/96 Take-note debate. United Nations Transition Mission in Haïti (UNTMIH) Haiti 1997 08 CF
750 YES 28/02/96 Take-note debate. CARE Canada Attachment Kenya 1997 08 Officer 1 NO Canadian Air Component in MAMDRIM Italy 1997 11 CF
14 YES 28/04/98 Take-note debate on renewing participation in SFOR. Maritime Interdiction Force (MIF) – Arabian Gulf Arabian Gulf 1997 12 One naval vessel NO Joint Task Force Central America (JTFCAM) Honduras 1998 02 CF
290 NO 20/11/98 Commitment mentioned in response to question. Coalition Deployment to the Arabian Gulf Arabian Gulf 1998 03 One frigate and two KC-130 aircraft YES 09/02/98 Adjournment debate on participation in possible military action in the Middle East. Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission/Verification Mission Kosovo 1998 7 CF
23 YES 07/10/98 Take-note debate on Kosovo. Other take-note debates on 17/02/99 and 12/04/99. NATO Extraction Force Former Yugoslav
Republic of Macedonia
1998 10 CF
55 NO Mission des Nations unies en République Centrafricaine (MINURCA) Central African
1998 11 CF
50 YES 17/02/99 Take-note debate only on changes in role on 17/02/99. Maritime Interdiction Force (MIF) – Arabian Gulf Arabian Gulf 1998 12 One naval vessel (HMCS Ottawa) NO United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK) Kosovo 1999 01 Liaison officer 1 YES 12/04/99 Take-note debate on situation in Kosovo. Humanitarian Airlift in Support of Kosovar Refugees Balkans 1999 02 Two CC-130 aircraft YES 12/04/99 Take-note debate on situation in Kosovo. Joint Task Force Serdivan (JTFS) Turkey 1999 04 CF
200 NO United Nations Development Programme’s Accelerated Demining Programme (ADP) Mozambique 1999 04 CF
3 NO International Force in East Timor (INTERFET) East Timor 1999 09 CF
640 NO 15/10/99 Question in Question Period. NATO Kosovo Force (KFOR) Kosovo 1999 08 CF
1,450 NO 15/11/99 Question in Question Period. United Nations Mission in the Republic of Congo Congo 1999 08 CF
1 NO Kosovo Verification Coordination Centre Former Yugoslav
Republic of Macedonia
1999 10 Military police, one NCM and one staff officer 6 NO United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) Sierra Leone 1999 10 Military
5 NO 19/10/99 16/05/2000 Questions in Question Period. International Military Advisory Training Team (IMATT) Sierra Leone 2000 11 CF
8 NO United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) Ethiopia and
2000 12 CF
450 YES 17/10/2000 Take-note debate on possible Canadian peacekeeping in Ethiopia and Eritrea. NATO Operation “Essential Harvest” Former Yugoslav
Republic of Macedonia
2001 08 CF
200 NO 19/09/2001 Question in Question Period. International Campaign Against Terrorism Afghanistan/
2001 10 CF
2,000 YES 15/10/2001 Take-note debate on international actions against terrorism. International Campaign Against Terrorism Afghanistan 2002 01 CF
1,000 YES 19/11/2001
Statement by the Minister of National Defence. Take-note debate on the deployment of CF personnel in Afghanistan. Question in Question Period. Question in Question Period. United Nations Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Afghanistan 2002 11 CF
1 NO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Afghanistan 2003 08 CF
1,900 NO Special Representative of the Secretary General in West Africa Senegal 2003 03 CF
1 NO United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) Liberia 2003 09 CF
4 NO United Nations Multinational Interim Force Haiti 2004 03 CF
500 YES 10/03/2004 Take-note debate on the situation in Haiti UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) Haiti 2004 07 CF
personnel (2) and police officers
102 NO United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMISUD) Sudan 2004 07 CF
2 NO International Campaign Against Terrorism (Operation Archer) Afghanistan 2005 10 DF
personnel, police officers and officials
Take-note debate on Canada's military mission in Afganistan. Take-note debate on Canada's commitment in Afghanistan. Debate on government motion to extend deployment.
Motion agreed to on division.
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