The earthquake in Haiti this week has created a humanitarian disaster, with hundreds of thousands of people killed or injured and millions requiring assistance. Canada and other countries around the world are scrambling to provide emergency aid. The federal government has already donated $5 million to emergency relief efforts and has promised to match private donations up to $50 million. It has also sent the Disaster Assistance Response Team and two Canadian Forces ships to the country. According to news reports, an additional 1,000 troops will also be sent to assist in relief efforts.
Canadians may differ in their views on Canada’s military presence in Afghanistan, with most looking forward to the end of the mission. But the country has always been strongly behind the use of the Canadian Forces for humanitarian aid and peacekeeping purposes.
A March 2009 Ipsos-Reid poll of Canadian views of the military showed that 93% feel it to be “important that Canada’s military respond to international situations in order to provide humanitarian assistance; just one in twenty (4%) disagree with this.” By contrast, “opinion was divided on whether the international role of the Canadian Forces should ever include combat. Most did not want to consider combat except as a very last resort, once all other avenues of diplomacy or negotiation had failed, and would also seek assurance that the mission would be undertaken for the right reasons; for example, protecting civilians or self-defence.”
Canadians’ support for peacekeeping was also clearly evident. “Many participants strongly identified peacekeeping with the image of Canada itself, a source of pride. However, some participants also indicated that this role might now be changing. Several made comments that they had always thought of the Canadian Forces in this regard but that they were no longer certain, or that they ‘still’ associated the Forces with peacekeeping, implying that this role might be changing.” (Canadian participation in peacekeeping missions has in fact declined dramatically in recent years.)
The bottom line is that Canadians want to do good when they go abroad. They want to help other people. That desire to help is clearly reflected in the sentiments of the sailors departing from Halifax to deliver aid to Haiti, as reported by the Chronicle Herald yesterday:
“Everybody who’s on board here right now wants to be on this mission,… We had a lot more sailors raising their hand than we were able to take.”
The crew are matter-of-fact about it, but they are all happy and proud to be on a mission aimed at helping the people of Haiti recover from a devastating earthquake.
“It’s my first sail,” said one young man, bracing against the cold outside as the ship steams out of Halifax Harbour. “I’m happy.”
“It’s what I signed up to do, man,” said his friend, a fresh-faced sailor. “Going to Haiti, doing relief work, it’s what we all train for.”
Information about how to donate to Haiti relief efforts can be found on the Globe and Mail‘s How you can help those in Haiti webpage.
Photo by Warrant Officer Carole Morissette