National Newswatch

PARIS — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today defended Canada's decision to take part in the ongoing UN peacekeeping effort in Mali.  

Trudeau made the remarks alongside Emmanuel Macron following a Paris meeting with the French president, who has made the African country a priority for his government.

Trudeau said Canada's new approach to peacekeeping — focusing on promoting roles for women, dealing with child soldiers, concentrating on training and more targeted deployment of resources — suits the modern era, which is marked less by well-defined, international conflicts and more by unpredictable perils posed by terrorism and outside actors.

Earlier today, former governor general Michaelle Jean, now the head of the Francophonie, thanked Trudeau for joining the Mali mission, which is reeling after a deadly attack by Islamic militants on Sunday.

The attack was launched against two bases near Timbuktu, where militants reportedly disguised as peacekeepers set off several suicide bombs and launched rockets at international forces. One peacekeeper was killed and more than a dozen others were injured, including several French soldiers.

Canada plans to send six military helicopters to Mali later this year to help with medical evacuations and the transport of supplies and ammunition, although they will be based in a different location than where Sunday's attack occurred.

Mali is considered the most dangerous peacekeeping mission in the world, with 166 blue helmets killed since 2013, more than half by what the UN calls "malicious acts."

Jean lamented the Sunday attack as she met Trudeau at the Francophonie’s headquarters.

She went on to thank Canada for agreeing to send forces to Mali, which is a former French colony and current member of the Francophonie, adding: "The Sahel region, for Mali and for all of us, is a question of high importance."

Canada and France also said they have struck bilateral agreements on battling climate change and defending cultural diversity, signed by Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and Heritage Minister Melanie Joly and their French counterparts.

The first agreement commits the two countries increase co-operation against climate change, through the France-Canada Partnership on climate and the environment.

The cultural deal is aimed at promoting cultural expression, diversity and the French language in the digital space. This initiative will also enable the two countries to enhance their collaboration within UNESCO.

On Tuesday, Trudeau will become the first Canadian prime minister to address the French National Assembly and the most recent leader to be given that rare opportunity since King Felipe of Spain in June 2015.

His speech is expected to touch on the rise of nationalism, populism and xenophobia, which have become serious concerns in France and other parts of Europe in recent years.

Much of the prime minister's two-day visit will also focus on trade as Canada looks to ease its dependence on the U.S. market.

Trudeau's message will include highlighting the potential benefits of the new Canada-European Union free trade deal, which came into force in September.

On Tuesday night the prime minister will head to London where he will meet the Queen and British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday, then attend a meeting of Commonwealth leaders on Thursday.

He returns to Ottawa on Friday.

— Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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