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Towards a Federal Department of Peace in Canada

The Department of Peace Initiative is currently now being pursued by peace NGOs in 20 countries. The Canada Working Group for a Federal Department of Peace in its present form was established in November 2005. The Working Group has now chapters in Victoria, Vancouver and Ottawa, and the new ones in active consideration in Winnipeg and Montreal. Our national campaign has been already endorsed by 13 national organizations that range from Council of Canadians, Canadian Pugwash Group, Conscience Canada to Dalai Lama Foundation of Canada and World Conference on Peace and Religion. Its prominent supporters include distinguished Canadian peacemakers such as Hon. Lloyd Axworthy and Senator Doug Roche.

In our background research to outline the rationale and need for such a Department, we found out that the Federal Government spends annually $16.3 billion (2004) on its “international security” envelope. This is a considerable amount in terms of taxpayer’s contribution for which there is little public debate or accountability in the country. Our research showed that there was a lack of transparency on how and where the funds for international peace and security were allocated and spent.

Difficulty in transparency resulted from the way “peace and security” was defined by the government, and the way it was organized. We found that international security envelope work was spread among seven federal departments – in the Departments of Defense, Foreign Affairs, CIDA, Justice, Immigration and so on. So we looked at each of those Departments, their mandates to find out if “Peace” was their top priority. Department of Defense identifies its main priority as national security. Foreign Affairs is more involved in crisis management, than peacebuilding in a defined way. CIDA’s top priority is poverty alleviation. We found a complete lack of a systemic approach for peace within the federal government.

The Federal Department of Peace we propose is a place that would provide a single coherent framework for policy focus for Peace. It will bring together for the first time the three major components of international peace and security: peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. Our paper (available at provides a full concept in the form of a model Bill for creation of such a Department headed by a senior Minister who, as a member of Cabinet, would actively pursue a mandate of conflict transformation by peaceful, non-violent means and serve as a counterpoint to the viewpoint of DND and other departments, ensuring a full debate prior to any commitment of Canadian troops for combat, for example.

We propose five key interrelated offices in this new Department: Office of Peace Education, Office of Human and Economic Rights, Office of Disarmament, Office of Civilian Peace Service, and Domestic Violence issues related to Women, Youth, Aboriginal and First Nations People as well as Interreligious Harmony.

Such a Peace Department should not require a large budget, just 2 percent of the current international security envelope to start with. This could be expanded to 10 percent as there is a proportionate decline in the funding of military defense over a 5 to 10year period. Instead of militarization, the electorate will get the government to focus upon longer-term institution building for peace. It is similar to the kind of effort we made a generation ago in committing ourselves to becoming a steward for our environment through the creation of Federal Department of the Environment. Some people have found the Peace Department title to be too soft. One might alternately give it a more functional title e.g. Department of Peacebuilding, Human Security or Disarmament etc.

At the Second International Peoples Summit of Department of Peace in Victoria this June, two of the delegates were from the governments of the Philippines and Solomon Islands where an equivalent of Peace Departments are already functioning to mitigate local conflicts and participation in international peace processes. Last July, an international group of NGOs under the GPPAC (Global Program on Prevention of Armed Conflict) in their submission to the UN, mentioned the necessity of Department of Peace and Civilian Peace Service in their agenda.

Opposition to the concept stems often from an unwillingness to challenge the status quo, on the part of political parties, bureaucracies, or even peace NGOs – all those who benefit from p-i-e-c-e-s, that is fragmentation of peace. As citizens, we would like our money to be spent on peacebuilding rather than seeking solutions through weaponry and killing other human beings. Reality is that it’s unrealistic to expect an armed soldier to be a social worker or conflict resolver. It requires another way of thinking and skill sets without which peace in 21st Century is unlikely to come. A Federal Peace Department is our alternative to the status quo.

So we have to ask our politicians to focus on this. If parties fail us, then we have to find MPs with conscience to introduce a Private Members bill. In democracies, ultimately politicians do things which their electorate want. Therefore awareness among the public has to be raised on “out of the box” approaches for peace through discussion and media.

We have plans for creatiing additional chapters across Canada. Please join us in this to ensure that we have a leadership to transform pieces of peace into something actionable.

For more on Department of Peace, please visit our web site: For chapter formation Manitoba westwards, please contact Dr. Saul Arbess at; and for Ontario eastwards, Dr. Bill Bhaneja at

Bill Bhaneja is presently a Senior Fellow at the Program for Research in Innovation Management and Economy, University of Ottawa. A former Canadian diplomat, he is the co-spokesperson for the Canada Working Group on Department of Peace. He is also a member of Canadian Pugwash Group, Science for Peace, Civilian Peace Service Canada and an Associate, Center for Global Noviolence, Hawaii.

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