What is the relationship between the Canadian and Colombian police?

Published by Brent Patterson on

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RCMP photo: A Canadian police trainer in Colombia, March 6, 2017.

The Colombian police have been implicated in 195 acts of aggression against journalists and 35 sexual assaults since the national strike began in April. We ask for clarity on the relationship between Canadian and Colombian police.

In January 2017, the CBC reported: “Canada will contribute up to 10 police officers to the international effort to demobilize guerilla groups and monitor the ceasefire in Colombia, CBC News has learned.”

That article adds: “Some of the officers are expected to be under the United Nations flag, while others would be part of a bilateral deployment, working directly with the South American country’s national police force.”

Several months later, on October 30, 2017, the Canadian Press reported on a “bilateral police initiative” between Canada and Colombia.

At that time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated: “We’ve agreed to work together to establish a bilateral police initiative. This effort will support post-conflict policing efforts in Colombia, and will see Canadian police providing training, capacity-building, and strategic advice to our Colombian friends.”

That article noted: “Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale was reportedly briefed last year on a proposal to contribute up to 10 police officers to peace efforts in Colombia, but it wasn’t clear whether the bilateral deployment was a part of that plan.”

An October 2017 Backgrounder from Global Affairs Canada further noted: “The governments of Canada and Colombia are developing a bilateral police initiative to support police capacity building for the post-conflict environment in Colombia.”

It adds: “Through the CPA [Canadian Police Arrangement], Canadian police will deploy to Colombia to provide training, capacity building and strategic advice to the National Police of Colombia and the Office of the Attorney General of Colombia.”

And it notes: “The areas of focus under discussion include police capacities and needs related to improving citizen security in rural Colombia in the post-conflict context, with a focus on gender.”

That Backgrounder differentiates the “Bilateral Police Initiative between Canadian and Colombian Police” from the “Canadian Police Participation in the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia”.

With respect to the latter program, it noted: “Canada deployed two police officers as observers to the first United Nations Mission in Colombia in February 2017. That mission has transitioned to a second: the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia.”

Subsequent to that, on November 15, 2017, this statement from Prime Minister Trudeau again noted: “Up to 10 police officers are also being deployed to Colombia to contribute to UN efforts to support the peace process and to help strengthen Colombian police capacity in the post-conflict environment.”

Human rights violations by Colombian police

In June of this year, Human Rights Watch stated: “Members of the Colombian National Police have committed egregious abuses against mostly peaceful demonstrators in protests that began in April 2021.”

Human Rights Watch further notes: “On May 14, the Ombudsperson’s Office reported 2 cases of rape, 14 cases of sexual assault, and 71 other cases of gender-based violence by police officers, including slapping and verbal abuse.”

José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, says: “These brutal abuses are not isolated incidents by rogue officers, but rather the result of systemic shortcomings of the Colombian police.”

PSOPs and Canadian police

Last month, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau spoke with Colombia’s Vice-President Marta Lucía Ramírez and announced over $3 million in new Peace and Stabilization Operations Program (PSOP) funding.

While there is no indication this funding will further support collaboration between Canadian and Colombian police, the Government of Canada has explained: “PSOPs plays a key role in deploying Canadian police officers from participating police services across Canada to multilateral peace operations and other stabilization-related missions.”

Given the concerns about gender-based violence and human rights violations by the Colombian police, PBI-Canada is seeking further information about the relationships between Canadian and Colombian police.

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