Don’t lose sight of future threats as Canada remembers the past

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By: LGen Roméo Dallaire and Dr. Shelly Whitman

Roméo Dallaire is a retired lieutenant-general, retired Senator, celebrated humanitarian and founder of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative; Dr. Shelly Whitman is the Executive Director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.

One hundred years ago, our young country paid a devastatingly high price through the lives of its men and women in uniform. Unbeknownst at the onset of the war, Canada would confront a battle like no other it had faced before.

It was in the trenches where Canada forged one of its most defining moments – the capturing of Vimy Ridge. Where others had failed, Canada succeeded. It was not by shear numbers or by overwhelming force that Vimy was taken. It was through the development of carefully crafted strategy combined with the innovative tactic of the creeping artillery barrage that Canada gained recognition and respect.

Our soldiers, when faced with what appeared as insurmountable challenges, answered the call with innovation and leadership that resulted in success.

As a new world order emerged with the completion of the Second World War, it was the efforts of a Canadian, Lester B. Pearson, who would help define one of our most enduring responses to conflict in the modern era – peacekeeping. Throughout the Cold War and beyond its completion, blue berets, many wearing the Canadian patch, would be seen and lead in pivotal conflicts around the globe, from Bosnia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda.

Today we bear witness to a new era of war. Conflict is now characterized by low intensity, intrastate struggles, with multiple armed groups engaging each other, high civilian casualties and the horrific use of children as weapons of war. These contemporary conflicts, much like the First World War one hundred years ago, present challenges like none that Canada and the world have faced.

One characteristic in particular that has defined these new wars is the use of child soldiers. Children are perceived by those who use them as cheap to operate, plentiful and easy to manipulate. We are now witnessing the evolution of this phenomenon with groups such as ISIS, who openly flaunt their use of children as weapons and speak of preparing for war that will last for generations.

Twenty years ago, Canada faced child soldiers in Rwanda’s genocide, and had neither the preparation, tools, nor tactics to effectively address this unfathomable threat. Unfortunately, the brave men and women who served valiantly in Afghanistan had the same grave experience. It is for this reason that we have founded an organization focused on preparing the security sector to prevent the use of children as weapons of war and thereby reducing harm to both soldiers and the children.

As a strong middle power, Canada has a role to play. Canada has, in its recent past, helped to develop critical international norms and institutions to protect the human rights of those who are threatened. Canada helped pioneer the International Criminal Court and the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, and it is a Canadian initiative that is creating the tools and tactics for the security sector to prevent the recruitment and use of children as weapons of war worldwide.

As with Vimy Ridge, Canada can be a leader in this era of new conflicts, particularly in the prevention of the use and recruitment of child soldiers. Remembrance Day is not only a time to reflect on the sacrifices of the past but also the sacrifices of our military today. Canada can empower its troops with the necessary tools and tactics needed to ensure that they are prepared for today’s conflict realities and anticipating the threats and demands of the future. The opportunity is now, it is time to take bold and decisive action. We need to reclaim our position as innovators in resolving conflicts.

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