A Canadian Hero Comes to the Empire Club of Canada

September 8, 2013

Many Canadians would be quick to put Senator Romeo Dallaire on their short list of Canadian heroes, and are aware that this man helped our country and many others as well understand the extreme complexity and salvage brutality of war. His personage has made its way into Hollywood films and television documentaries, and yet few know very much about the real person behind the myth.

It has been said that everyone really important in this country eventually ends up speaking at The Empire Club, and this week we are honoured to welcome a true Canadian hero to our Club. While this is his first appearance with us, he has certainly been referred to by other personalities who have spoken to us. On November 10th, 2008, the head of Canada’s military, General Walt Natynczyk, had this to say about Romeo Dallaire at our Club: 


Our combat capabilities were reduced to the point that we were only defined as peacekeepers and even this was an ugly myth, because a military force needs a combat capability to intervene, to stop violence, to protect those who are most vulnerable and to defend human rights.

Without these robust combat capabilities, our forces become a mere spectator to a conflict. I would ask you to read General Romeo Dallaire’s book on his experience in Rwanda to understand the point that real peacekeeping demands combat capability and agile forces. Otherwise the ideal of peacekeeping is but a myth, misunderstood by folks who have not really witnessed modern conflict in all its ugliness.

A few years earlier, another military leader, Major General Lewis Mackenzie, brought Romeo Dallaire into his remarks when he addressed the Club On April 14th, 2004:

All that relative stability evaporated with the demise of the Soviet Union in the late ’80s. All the Cold War constraints were removed and accumulated old grievances from the Balkans to Africa, to Kurdistan to the Caucasus, to the Philippines and numerous points in between exploded with internal conflicts–and the Security Council, because of the national self-interests of the Perm 5, wouldn’t and couldn’t adjust to the new challenges.

Starting with Yugoslavia in 1992, UN military intervention missions were launched using outdated Cold War criteria. Security Council members naively assumed that the belligerents wanted the UN to intervene, that minimal budgets for best-case scenarios would be adequate, that the use of force in self-defence would be sufficient and that the various missions and their commanders would have plenty of time to get up to speed once they arrived in the mission area.

What followed was 10 years of unmitigated disasters for the Security Council and the world. First was the tentative response to the all-out war in the Balkans–not quickly as my colleague Romeo Dallaire has stated but a full year after the fighting started; the declaration of “UN safe havens” that the UN couldn’t defend, with the resulting overrunning of Screbinica; an initial UN force so inadequate in Somalia that the Pakistani troops couldn’t get out of their camp in Mogadishu until a U.S. led intervention force rescued them, followed a year later by the UN abandoning the entire mission; the genocide in Rwanda while the Security Council actually debated the definition of genocide; the murder of UN civilian staff in East Timor before the UN asked Australia to intervene and save the day; the pathetic UN initial response in Sierra Leone that had to be rescued by the British; and to cap it all off the imposing of counter-productive sanctions on Iraq and, if recent revelations prove to be true, corrupt UN management of the related “food for oil program.”

Now is the time to hear from the man himself as he addresses a topic that is perhaps closer to his heart than any other… “A new Conceptual base for Conflict Prevention”, a topic that harkens back to the time when he was a lonely voice in the wilderness calling for the world to come together to try and resolve what became one of the worst genocides in human history in Rwanda.

Another “must see” event, coming to The Empire Club of Canada this coming week.

Gordon McIvor,
Chair, Speaker’s Committee

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