A Civilian Peace Service for Canada?

Canada should create a Civilian Peace Service to prevent violence at home and abroad

By Carl Stieren | 2005-04-01 12:00:00

Although Germany won this "peace race" by starting a Civilian Peace Service in 1999, Canada could be the third country in the world to do so. The efforts by Peaceworkers UK during the past four years give the United Kingdom a good chance to become the second country sometime soon.

It seems that civilian peace teams are an idea whose time has come! Within the past few years, NGOs have been forming in about a dozen European countries -- including France, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Hungary, Germany and Britain -- to promote the idea in their countries. In Switzerland, for example, there's a growing movement aiming to replace the country's army with a civilian peace service.

In Canada the idea has been gathering steam since 1981, when Peace Brigades International was founded. Since then, between 100 and 200 Canadians have participated in some way in peace teams. Now there is a move to create an even stronger Canadian program.

A special consultation was held February 7 to 9 in Ottawa, hosted by Nonviolent Peaceford Canada and Professor Vern Redekop, Chair of Conflict Studies at St. Paul University. The question was not whether a Civilian Peace Service would work. The question was whether there was the political will in Canada to create it.

"We know by experience that nonviolent conflict resolution by civilians is possible," organizer Hans Sinn told the 60 professionals and activists gathered at the consultation, "What we don't know is whether nonviolent conflict resolution on a large scale comparable to the armed forces is possible, simply because it has never been tried." There is a major difference between a civilian peace service and the existing peace teams, such as PBI, Nonviolent Peaceforce and Christian Peacemaker Teams. A civilian peace service is a formal partnership between a government and a coalition of NGOs. Also, a civilian peace service is usually organized in a single country, while most peace teams are multinational.

Members of a civilian peace service would not wear uniforms or carry guns, but would have plenty of monitoring equipment -- cell phones, cameras, sometimes video cameras. They would serves as eyes and ears -- and proof to the local organizers of violence that "the whole world is watching." To do this work on a scale that would replace an armed UNpeacekeeping force, a much larger team would be required than ever has been created before: between 100 and 2,000 members.

Many experiences have proven that often it is possible for a civilian team to do things that soldiers with guns can never do. I know a veteran of a UN peacekeeping operations who had been an unarmed civilian monitor in a war zone. He said that more than once his life had been saved by the fact that he didn't have a gun.

Of course, a civilian peace service can carry out a variety of other operations -- both peacekeeping and peacebuilding. A common service is accompaniment. Peace teams train local people to carry out peace work of their own. (Just now in Iraq, for instance, some local citizens who admire the Christian Peacemaker Teams are forming their own Muslim Peacemaker Team.)

Onr possible response by civilian peacekeeprs would be to intervene to prevent hostilities by interposing themselves between two combatant groups. This has not been done yet, though the Gulf Peace Team tried to prevent the invasion of Iraq in 1991 by sitting in a camp in the desert.

A meeting in Ottawa

To find out what other Canadians thought about forming a civilian team here, Nonviolent Peaceforce Canada invited other NGOs, people in government, experienced peace workers, and people from religious communities to come to the consultation. Former Ottawa Mayor Marion Dewar attended, as did Deputy Police Chief Larry Hill. The three main speakers - Tim Wallis of Peaceworkers UK in London, Helga Tempel of the German Civilian Peace Service in Hamburg, and David Grant of the Nonviolent Peaceforce office in Washington DC - were all founders of Nonviolent Peaceforce as well as supporters of a Civilian Peace Service.

When it came my turn to speak, it was to a group of MPs and their staff from all parties in Parliament the day after the consultation. One unspoken question hung in the air: "Why would Nonviolent Peaceforce Canada ask us to create a different organization, a Civilian Peace Service for Canada?"

As I was representing Nonviolent Peaceforce Canada, I answered by reminding the parliamentarians that Canada has the potential of making a huge contribution to civilian peacekeeping and peacebuilding on a large scale. As Hans Sinn's had noted, "We may have all the pieces in Canada - we may simply need to put them together." Here are some of those pieces that we already have:

Conflict Analysis. The Canadian Peacebuilding Coordinating Committee, formed in Ottawa by representatives of government and NGOs, has brought together experts in working groups that have been identifying key needs and troubled areas around the world where assistance now could prevent conflict tomorrow.

Recruitment. CANADEM, an Ottawa-based non-profit agency, maintains the most complete roster in Canada of Canadians with international experience in conflict areas and with specific conflict transformation and peacebuilding skills. The group helps place Canadian civilians with UN missions, with the OSCE, and in other work based on the values of "international peace and security, human rights and the responsibility to protect all individuals."

Training. There are training institutes that could be used all across the country: the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre in Cornwallis Nova Scotia; the Canadian International Institute for Applied Negotiation and the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution in Ottawa; Conrad Grebel College's certificate program in conflict management in Waterloo, Ontario; the Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies Department at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg; the youth programs of the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation for World Peace in Calgary; and Royal Roads University's Peace and Conflict Studies Department in Victoria, BC.

Deployment. Canada already has NGOs with wide and valuable experience. They include CUSO, WUSC, Oxfam Canada, Mennonite Central Committee, Frontier College, Canadian Executive Service Organization, PBI-Canada, Canada World Youth, Katimavik and Projet Accompagnement Québec-Guatemala have had experience in deploying civilians into conflict areas in Canada and overseas.

Although the even more basic question "Why create a Civilian Peace Service in the first place?" was not raised during the three-day consultation itself, different versions of the question were. The answers are simple: the task is too large for Nonviolent Peaceforce Canada to do by itself; there is a pressing need for this work in Canada and around the world; and this country has the potential to unite to meet this need.

The German experience

Globally, the concept is taking off. In Germany, a group of NGOs and the government created their own service, Ziviler Friedensdienst, in 1999. (The name means "Civilian Peace Service.")

"In 1998, the Social Democrat-Green government in Berlin said they would implement this Civilian Peace Service," Helga Tempel of Hamburg told the group. "It was our job as NGOs to get them to keep their promise." And keep it they did.

Last year the German government put in about 14 million Euros. Since Ziviler Friedensdienst was founded in 1999, more than 140 people have been given intensive specialized training, and 168 specialists have been sent abroad to work in conflict areas in 40 countries.

"They are peace consultants," Helga Tempel added. "They train local people to help solve their own problems."

The role of a Civilian Peace Service member must be that of a trained professional. On that there is no disagreement. But should the member be a civilian peacebuilder or a civilian peace keeper? On the side of the peacebuilder is Peaceworkers UK and Ziviler Friedensdienst. Pushing for the role of civilian peacekeeper are the supporters of Nonviolent Peaceforce and PBI. But there may not be that much of a gap between the two. There is a strong group of individuals arguing for both.

The British experience

In Britain, Peaceworkers UK has been building support for its own Civilian Peace Service. "We did get a motion to have a debate in Parliament on the creation of a Civilian Peace Service," said Tim Wallis. "We also have a proposal to the Foreign Office, which shows that they need 200 people to meet their commitment to the OSCE and other international agencies, which we've costed at £400,000, or about one-quarter of the cost of keeping UK troops in Iraq for one day."

"We have a European Network of Civilian Peace Services where we set standards and explore training opportunities," said Tim Wallis. "And Canada is welcome to join us."

Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP)

There are some advantages to multilateral peace efforts that a Civilian Peace Service, coming from a single country, does not have:

"Nonviolent Peaceforce has its greatest strength in its international team," David Grant said. "The people working in our pilot project in Sri Lanka are people from Kenya, the Philippines, Nepal, Brazil and other countries. We're not seen as Yanks or Brits, but as people from all over the world."

With small offices in several continents and a pilot project of 18 team members in Sri Lanka, Nonviolent Peaceforce has been advancing the case for a large-scale, multinational civilian peacekeeping force.

"A moral authority is what we need to be effective," NP's David Grant told the group. "The Blue Helmets have that authority because they are sanctioned by the UN. I'd like to see Nonviolent Peaceforce become something like the 'Blue Robes'."

A Department of Peace?

The consultation also heard two different proposals to create a federal Department of Peace. One proposal was introduced by Saul Arbess of Victoria, BC, and has the endorsement of Lloyd Axworthy and Doug Roche. The idea is to create such a department within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and to handle disarmament and international treaties as well as peacebuilding. The group plans to hold an international conference on peace issues with Royal Roads University in early 2006. The other proposal was presented by Bill Bhaneja of the Program of Research in Innovation Management and Economy, University of Ottawa. His proposal was to create a focus for peacebuilding within the federal government, with the Department of Peace as an enabling agency that could also possibly help other initiatives.

"A future federal Department for Peace will be the perfect place for a Canadian Civilian Peace Service," said Bill Bhaneja. "We will use the opportunity to provide a good case for a Department of Peace at the International Policy Review and at public and political events."

The group also heard from Dal Brodhead of the New Economy Development Group on the context for a Civilian Peace Service in Canada. "The capacity of the government to deliver, to conceptualize and sustain new initiatives has greatly diminished," he said. Yet in spite of this setback, he saw great energy at the local level, even with scarce resources. "There are new community development initiatives, Aboriginal healing initiatives, and conflict resolution agencies."

Susan Brown, on leave from CIDA to work with the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre, told of her six years in CIDA as chief of peacebuilding. She described how she tried to build some parts of such a service during her previous years at CIDA. "I fully support the creation of a Civilian Peace Service -- especially if it includes a Rapid Reaction Force component and deals with the sharp edge of conflict prevention and peacebuilding," she said. "It should be building on existing capacity like CANADEM and the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre rather than setting up a competing organization."

A new concept takes shape

On the third day, the group agreed on a mission statement that says:

Civilian Peace Service Canada recruits, trains, and deploys qualified civilians to promote the nonviolent resolution of conflicts and helps to build a sustainable peace in partnership with local communities.

The next question to answer was whether a Civilian Peace Service would work in Canada or overseas, or both. There was no consensus, but there was some movement toward working both in Canada and overseas. As one participant put it, "If we invent insulin and export it everywhere but don't use it in our own country, something's wrong."

On the last day, the consultation also established a Civilian Peace Service Canada Development Committee, and registered a website, www.peaceservice.ca, which will be online by March 9. The members nominated and named to the committee were Hans Sinn, Sybil Grace, Carl Stieren, Lori Hollohan, Pan Kanagaretnam, Peter Stockdale, Murray Thomson, Rosalia Panarello, Hélène Dahl, Gerry Ohlsen, Bill Bhaneja, Mireille Evans, Amelia Shepherd and Chaitanya Kalevar.

The next steps are to further the dream in Canada by lobbying civil society organizations and Parliament further and elaborating the concept. Stay tuned for developments in an interesting initiative in Canadian conflict transformation. I was glad I actively participated.

Carl Stieren is an Ottawa writer and staff member of an international NGO as well as a member of the Co-ordinating Committee of Nonviolent Peaceforce Canada.
Peace Magazine Apr-Jun 2005

Peace Magazine Apr-Jun 2005, page 10. Some rights reserved.

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