1146 Mission to Quetzaltenango

Leading at the Edge: True Tales From Canadian Police in Peacebuilding and Peacekeeping Missions Around the World
by Ben J.S. Maure

Vancouver: Ben Maure, 2020
$29.95 / 9780995034303

Reviewed by May Q. Wong

*

The Canadian military has, since 1954, participated in missions that support peace and stability around the world. In fact, it has been said that “Canadians are the world’s pre-eminent peacekeepers, having participated in almost every UN mission, and in many more operated outside the framework of that institution”[1]

Ben Maure’s book, Leading at the Edge, focuses on the less widely known fact of Canada’s civilian police participation in international peacekeeping missions. This book will be of most interest to police officers considering applying to an overseas mission, police and military historians and academics, and people interested in Canada’s role in international peacekeeping.

Maure has collected stories of ten police officers (including himself) who served overseas in some of the world’s most politically and militarily challenging hotspots in missions between 1989 and 2010. Anyone who listens or reads about international news will be familiar with the conflicts in Afghanistan, the former Yugoslavia, and Palestine. What is perhaps less well known is that Canada sent police peacekeepers to all of these, and other, places.

Each chapter starts with a brief history of the country’s conflicts and reasons for international intervention, whether organized through the United Nations or the European Union. These summaries and Appendix A, which describes the selection criteria for participation on a mission, provided the most useful information in the book.

The topic is an important one, and the stories meant to inspire. However, what I found lacking were the voices of the individuals; their stories would have been more powerful if told in the participants’ own words. Instead, Leading at the Edge is written in the third person, with personal comments from the author that took the focus away from the individual being discussed. I was also disappointed the author had not included any stories of female participants.

I wanted to know the specific peacekeeping work the individuals did, and was disappointed to find that the description of their activities was limited, and at times vague and somewhat disorganized. Instead, there was much greater emphasis on how each man travelled to the country; their on-site living arrangements and conditions, including access to food, potable water, and the availability of local women to do housekeeping for a small sum of money; the impact on the individual’s family; and the personal development benefits gained by the individual participant. While these are undoubtedly important issues to be taken into consideration before applying for an overseas mission, the relative space devoted to these topics seemed to me to diminish the roles and reasons for the men being there.

Canadian United Nations Military Observers (UNMOs) of MINUGUA (Misión de Verificación de las Naciones Unidas en Guatemala), 1997. Standing (L-R): Luiz Araujo, Walters Watkins, Douglas Eaton, Robert Champagne, Robert Taylor, Alex Fieglar, Paul Lansey, Pierre van Doesburg, Louis Lafrance, Alex Dieryckx. Kneeling (L-R): unidentified escort, Carlos Belsham, Carlos Olivas, Eva Martinez, Claude Vadeboncoeur, Migel Gonzalez. Photo courtesy Esprit de Corps/ Canadian Military Magazine
Ben Maure of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police

The author’s story is a case in point. Ben Maure himself was a ten-year veteran with the RCMP in Surrey, BC, when he was accepted to serve on a year-long (December 1998-1999) tour of duty as a United Nations Peacekeeper in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Officially known as the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA), Canada sent a small contingent of military personnel to disarm, demobilize, and assist in re-integrating former Indigenous rebel combatants to civil society. Part of Ben Maure’s assignment as the sole police representative from Canada, was to work with police from other participating nations to monitor the implementation of the peace accords that put a stop to the civil war between the rebels and the Guatemalan government.

A specific requirement for acceptance on this mission was the need to be fluent in Spanish. He had had an interest in learning Spanish, so was well qualified in this regard, but he later shared a more personal reason for going to Guatemala. After an uncertain waiting period between being told he met all the qualifications, being released from his job, and being accepted, he was finally able to fly to Guatemala. The description of his duties was limited to the occasional supervision of applicants taking police entrance exams for the new civilian police force, investigating complaints from the general public (e.g. about police corruption), and report writing.

MINUGUA office in Guatemala. Photo courtesy Prensa Libre

After commenting on the inadvisability of drinking tap water, he described his living arrangements and the important friendship that developed between himself and his landlord. Returning to describing his mission, Ben Maure wrote at length about being caught in a mob situation in a remote Mayan village, where he and a colleague were to monitor how the local police were handling a claim of theft. At the time, they did not know that the Indigenous population did not understand or trust UN representatives, and made assumptions that put their own lives, and that of the local citizens in grave danger. This was a comment on the importance of providing training about local customs for UN recruits, and the danger such a lack of knowledge can engender. He added that this kind of training is now available.

He then wrote about the personal gratification of being able to meet his Guatemalan foster child and the boy’s family that he had been supporting through World Vision. To close, he related the frustrating case of a human rights complaint, but was able to conclude that his overall experience in Guatemala was “…one of the most rewarding experiences in my policing career” (p. 83).

These international missions were vital to help restore peace, law and order in countries torn apart by war and hatred. Despite the limitations in the book, these police officers deserve our and the world’s thanks for their service.

*

May Q Wong. Photo by M. Guan

May Q Wong researches and chronicles the extraordinary in ordinary people. A graduate of McGill University, she holds a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Victoria and retired from the BC Public Service in 2004. Her first book, A Cowherd in Paradise: From China to Canada (Brindle & Glass, 2012), concerns a Chinese couple separated for half of their 50 year marriage, and the impact of Canada’s discriminatory laws on their family. City in Colour: Rediscovered Stories of Victoria’s Multicultural Past (TouchWood, 2018) (reviewed by Tom Koppel) concerns the diverse range of immigrants and their contributions to Victoria. In addition to reading, writing, and speaking to groups about her books, May creates useful and beautiful things with knitting and sewing needles – the latest being hand-beaded face masks. Editor’s note: May Wong has also reviewed books by Bernard A.O. Binns & Ron Smith, Patrick Saint-PaulIan Greene &  Peter McCormickBeverley McLachlinGraeme TaylorDukesang WongHenry YuMei-Li Lee, Catherine Clement, and John Price & Ningping Yu for The Ormsby Review.

*

The Ormsby Review. More Books. More Reviews. More Often.

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

The Ormsby Review is a journal service for in-depth coverage of B.C. books and authors. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Patricia Roy, David Stouck, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Provincial Government Patron since September 2018: Creative BC

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

Endnotes:

[1] (Norman Hillmer, “Canadian Peacekeeping: New and Old” Proceedings from 21st Colloquium of the International Commission on Military History, August, 1995, pp. 539-548, accessed via: https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/services/military-history/history-heritage/official-military-history-lineages/general/book-1995-peacekeeping-1815-today.html )”

Please follow and like us:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *