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A force for good in troubled countries

April 2, 2014
By: 
Stephanie Harrington
Dale MacPherson helped facilitate World Food Program operations in Pibor County, South Sudan, in 2013. Photo credit: Martine Perret, UNMISS.

Dale MacPherson brings human rights abuses to light in troubled regions of the world.

It’s a tough job that takes its toll. But after 22 years with the Canadian Armed Forces, including deployments in Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, the Middle East and Bosnia-Herzegovina, MacPherson knows his role matters to civilians caught in conflict.

The Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies student was among 12 Canadian military members stationed in South Sudan last July as part of a United Nations humanitarian mission. He took a break from his studies to visit the world’s youngest country, which has since lapsed into conflict. Stationed in Jonglei State, where thousands of civilians were displaced because of armed insurgency and tribal conflict, MacPherson helped facilitate World Food Program delivery.

“It was a difficult mission in a poor and desolate part of the country. Two of the largest tribes were warring with each other,” he says.

MacPherson assisted with human rights investigations for crimes including rape, looting and extrajudicial killings. He says it was a challenging role, given that the Canadian military was in South Sudan as a government partner, not observer.

“We had to make sure the right people were made aware of the truth while not poisoning relations which we were expected to establish and maintain,” he says.

At Royal Roads, MacPherson applied his extensive overseas experience to the classroom, focusing his studies on human security and peacebuilding courses, as well as leadership. He says master’s level study has refined his knowledge of security issues and improved his communication skills.

“I lean back on my experiences when I’m trying to make a point or develop an argument,” he says. “Reading from different perspectives is what I find valuable, from a liberal arts education point of view.

"We try to understand different views in an issue to gain a better appreciation of why things are the way they are.”

Prof. Wendy Schissel, Interdisciplinary Studies program head, says she admires MacPherson’s perseverance and focus.

“Dale exemplifies the kind of military personnel that we need and want in our Canadian forces,” Schissel says. “He’s the kind of student that enriches our program and our university: he has a deep thirst for knowledge, an interdisciplinarian’s critical understanding of peacekeeping, and years of training and experience in training others in the field.”

Now a military officer in Ottawa, MacPherson hopes to be posted as desk officer for Canadian Armed Forces missions in Africa. It’s a competitive career that requires sacrifice, but MacPherson is dedicated to his vocation.

“There’s the challenge, the adventure, the humanitarian aspect,” he says. “I’m trying to be a force of good in the world.”