Training peacekeepers in the Kootenays

Selkirk College is launching a one-of-a-kind Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping Program in January.

Selkirk College is launching a new program this January that will train students from all over the world to keep the peace.

The Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping Program will launch on January 16, 2016, and is a fourth-month online course ending with a bootcamp at the Selkirk campus from April 18 to 29.

Randy Janzen, instructor of peace studies at Selkirk and chair of the Mir Centre for Peace, will be one of the program’s instructors.

“The program is to train people who have an interest working anywhere in the world … to become skilled to reduce violence in volatile situations,” explains Janzen. “We usually think of peacekeepers as a military operation, and many of those have been very successful, but this is a civilian or non-military intervention, and … some researchers show that in fact this is just as effective, and it’s way cheaper, and it’s actually safer than military peacekeeping.”

The Selkirk program is the first of its kind to be offered in a postsecondary institution. It’s being offered in collaboration with an NGO called Nonviolent Peaceforce, which is an unarmed, paid civilian peacekeeping force.

Peacekeeping takes place not only in war zones, but also in inner cities where there is violence related to organized crime.

Students who graduate from the program could find themselves working in either situation, either for an organization like Nonviolent Peaceforce or for an organization that will take them on as a volunteer and pay a stipend.

“We want to attract people who already have education, like they might have a Bachelor of Arts, and they really want to do something specific,” said Janzen. “So this is a very specific training course. At the end of it you actually have a kind of credential that kind of equips you to do a very specific job.”

Janzen hopes that by introducing this program, Selkirk can also help change the face of peacekeeping.

“Our idea is ten years down the line that the Canadian government will be hiring these positions, and other types of government organizations will be hiring these positions,” he said. “That people will be hired to work right here in British Columbia in volatile situations around environmental issues, around First Nations land rights, where the last thing we want to see is where there’s a violent confrontation between one group and, let’s say, law enforcement agencies that gets out of hand.”

The program is open to students from all over the world, and they only need to be in Castlegar for two weeks during the bootcamp, where instructors, including employees from Nonviolent Peacekeeping, will teach them some conflict resolution and communication skills.

To support international students who would otherwise not be able to afford the program, Selkirk hosted a fundraising event on Saturday night at the Brilliant Cultural Centre, raising close to $10,000.

This story will appear in the West Kootenay Advertiser the week of Thursday, October 1.