FWSAR: Ticking off another year

By David Pugliese

The Department of National Defence’s quest to buy new search and rescue aircraft is heading into year 11, earning the program the dubious distinction of being one of the longest-running procurements on the Royal Canadian Air Force’s books.

First announced in 2004 by the then-Liberal government, and then re-announced by the Conservatives in 2006, the Fixed Wing Search and Rescue (FWSAR) program continues to sputter along.

At one point a contract for the $3.1 billion program was supposed to be awarded in 2009 … but that didn’t happen.

Under a new schedule, a request for proposals for FWSAR was scheduled to be issued to industry in late 2013, according to an earlier letter sent to various firms by Dan Ross, then the DND’s assistant deputy minister for materiel, and Pablo Sobrino, associate assistant deputy minster at Public Works and Government Services. At the time, Ross and Sobrino did not outline when they expected a new aircraft to be delivered.

Despite their assurances, the RFP, however, has yet to be issued.

The FWSAR aircraft would replace both the Buffalo and the C-130 Hercules now used in search and rescue. At one point, the project envisioned purchasing 17 aircraft but the RCAF has not detailed how many planes it currently wants to acquire.

Industry representatives say portions of the draft RFP have been released so far but there is no indication when a final request for proposals might be provided. “The information has been coming out in dribs and drabs, but it’s obvious the project is still far off from seeing an aircraft purchased,” one industry source told Esprit de Corps.

The Department of National Defence as well as Public Works was asked for specific timelines for the project, including the year the contract is expected to be announced. “The Department of National Defence continues to work with the Department of Public Works on this file,” responded Zoltan Csepregi, a DND spokesman.

Industry representatives say such a response is not surprising. The FWSAR project has a long history of inaction. It was sidelined over the years by more urgent purchases of equipment for Canada’s Afghanistan mission, as well as complaints made in the House of Commons by domestic aerospace firms as well as Airbus Military that the RCAF favoured Alenia’s C-27J aircraft for FWSAR.

Alan Williams, the Defence department’s former assistant deputy minister for materiel, also testified before a Parliamentary committee that the air force had designed the requirements for the search-and-rescue aircraft program to favour the C-27J.

In December 2008, Defence Minister Peter MacKay tried to fast-track the project, but again, that quickly derailed amid allegations of favouritism towards the C-27J. The RCAF has strenuously denied it has any preferred aircraft.

Earlier in 2014, Canadian Forces spokesman Capt. Alexandre Munoz noted that there have been changes in the procurement strategy, adding that it has been modified “from a platform-based procurement to a capability-based procurement in which industry will be required to propose the type of aircraft, the number of aircraft, and the number of bases required to meet the level of service.”

After all the delays, three companies have emerged to be the leading contenders for FWSAR: Alenia Aermacchi with the C-27J Spartan, Airbus Military with its C295, and Lockheed Martin with the C-130J. Each firm has particular aspects to its proposals that will position their bids — when they come — to be attractive to the Canadian government. “We’re ready to make our bid, and we’re just waiting for the government to say the word,” said Benjamin Stone, president and CEO at Alenia Aermacchi North America.

Alenia’s group — dubbed Team Spartan — recently announced the addition of IMP Aerospace to its fold. IMP will join the team composed of Alenia Aermacchi, General Dynamics Canada, DRS Technologies, and Kelowna Flightcraft. Under the agreement, IMP Aerospace will modify the baseline C-27J aircraft into the final FWSAR operational configuration and will support Alenia Aermacchi during the aircraft delivery phase, the company noted.

IMP will be responsible for the installation of General Dynamics’ mission system, the installation of bubble windows, interior design modifications (including the addition of pallets, table, racks, and six additional seats) and installation of the EO/IR turret. The work will be performed at IMP Aerospace’s engineering and maintenance operation located in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Alenia’s C-27J also recently received a nod of confidence from the U.S. Coast Guard as a search and rescue aircraft. The Coast Guard announced on November 14 that it had received the first of 14 C-27J Spartans destined for maritime SAR operations. The aircraft are being transferred from U.S. Air Force stocks.

The fleet is currently undergoing maintenance and modification for its new maritime patrol and search and rescue role with the Coast Guard, Alenia pointed out. The C-27Js are to be in service by 2016, and will be fitted with a new mission system and augmented sensors. The aircraft will be replacing the previously-planned, but no longer required, purchase of 18 Airbus C-235s, Alenia added.

Alenia will also be focusing on meeting the Canadian government’s desire for high-value work for domestic firms. Team Spartan’s approach to in-service support and access to intellectual property on the FWSAR program aligns with that government strategy, the firm has noted. As a result, the teaming agreements stipulate that all relevant intellectual property will be provided to Canadian partners so that they are able to perform that high-value work.

Airbus Defence and Space had news of its own in October as it added Provincial Aerospace to its FWSAR team.

At the Maritime and Arctic Security and Safety conference, in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Airbus Defence and Space and Provincial Aerospace announced they had reached a teaming agreement to pursue FWSAR. The agreement emerged from a memorandum of understanding signed earlier by the two companies.

Provincial Aerospace joins the Canadian C295 FWSAR partners, including Pratt & Whitney Canada, which will provide engines for every aircraft; CAE, which manufactures simulators and training devices; Vector Aerospace which performs engine maintenance and overhauls; and L-3 WESCAM, which produces the electro/optical sensors, or the “eyes” of the aircraft.

Pablo Molina, head of Airbus Defence and Space (Military Aircraft) Canada, told Esprit de Corps that the firm’s FWSAR team is now complete. “What we have found in Provincial Aerospace is a perfect complement to our expertise,” he noted. “With the team we have right now, we think we have the best Canadian team of the ones in the tender process.”

Provincial Aerospace will be the main Canadian in-service support (ISS) partner for the C295 team. Molina said although the RFP is not yet complete, the process “has been fully transparent and open, as well as fair.”

Derek Scott, vice president of program development for Provincial Aerospace, said although the focus is for now on the FWSAR project, the firm has its eye on other potential opportunities with Airbus. “PAL is very much an export oriented company and there are many opportunities for a company such as us to be working with Airbus in many other countries around the world,” Scott said.

Although Canada’s FWSAR aircraft are expected to be located at four main operating bases — Comox, Trenton, Winnipeg and Greenwood — Scott said that if the Airbus team was selected, a main maintenance, repair, and overhaul centre would also be established. The team has not yet publicly named where that centre would be.

The other main contender to provide aircraft for FWSAR is Lockheed Martin. It plans to bid the C-130J, which is already in the RCAF’s inventory as a tactical transport aircraft. The company has been promoting the fact that it has a proven product which already has an established maintenance record and parts system within the RCAF.

Besides the commonality with the existing RCAF transport fleet, the four-engine C-130J would offer the air force better range and more size for SAR. But that significant boost in capability comes with the price of higher operating costs.

In 2012, Lockheed Martin and Cascade Aerospace, headquartered in Abbotsford, B.C., signed a Memorandum of Understanding to jointly pursue “mutually beneficial business opportunities,” including FWSAR. Currently, Cascade Aerospace is partnered with Lockheed Martin to support the RCAF C-130J fleet under a 20-year contract; it also provides fleet management services directly to the RCAF for its legacy C-130 Hercules fleet.

In February, Cascade announced that Lockheed had formalized the British Columbia firm as one of only two authorized Lockheed Martin C-130J Heavy Maintenance Centers in the world. With that new designation, Cascade is now dual-qualified as both a C-130 Hercules Service Center and C-130J Heavy Maintenance Centre, making Cascade a company of choice for Hercules operators around the world, the firm noted.

That move will also be a selling point to the Canadian government as it puts emphasis on high-value Canadian content and the promise of future work from the winning bidder. Stephanie Stinn, a spokeswoman at Lockheed Martin, said earlier this year that the company’s C-130J aircraft has the speed, range, and payload to meet the draft requirements for FWSAR already released so far by the government. It would also be able to meet the overall requirements, no matter how many bases the RCAF decides to operate fixed wing search and aircraft from.

“While Lockheed Martin has not yet seen the final requirements and evaluation criteria that will be included in the RFP, the greater speed, range and payload of the C-130J allows the aircraft to fully meet the draft FWSAR requirements from either three or four bases,” Stinn noted in an email.  “However, since the new FWSAR aircraft is intended to perform the search and rescue mission in Canada for the next 30 years, Lockheed Martin believes that any new FWSAR aircraft and associated basing concept should be at least equal to, and ideally better, than Canada’s current solution — including the ability to perform extended searches as needed, sometimes for hours on end, from any of the main operating bases.”

There are other companies that in the past have expressed interest in FWSAR. Bombardier was one of those but company officials say the firm is no longer pursuing the project because of the requirement for a rear ramp on the FWSAR aircraft. Its Q series/Dash 8 planes do not have such a ramp, and the cost of redesigning and certifying such aircraft to take part in the competition would be prohibitive.

Boeing, which at one point was hoping to offer Canada the V-22 Osprey for search and rescue, has gone silent.

Viking Air Ltd of Sidney, BC had proposed that it provide new production DHC-5 Buffalo aircraft, with the work being done in manufacturing facilities in Sidney and in Calgary, Alberta. The Buffalo is currently used by the Canadian Forces for fixed-wing search and rescue on the west coast.

But Viking has yet to build a new production Buffalo, a situation that would hinder any bid since it is expected than the RFP would call for flight testing of an existing aircraft.

Viking Air officials have confirmed to Esprit de Corps that the company no longer considers itself a “prime contender” for the project, and has pulled back from the program.

The lack of an operational aircraft is also a hurdle that the Brazilian aerospace firm Embraer is facing. Company officials have suggested that its KC-390 could be a contender for Canada’s FWSAR. The company has been promoting the KC-390 as a competitor to the Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules, but the aircraft is still in the development phase. Embraer hopes to get flight certification by late 2015, with delivery of the first four aircraft to Brazil’s air force in 2016. If the delays continue with FWSAR, it could be a potential contender.

Such delays at this point seem inevitable. Sources say the main problem is that the FWSAR doesn’t have a champion inside the federal government or the Department of National Defence. Although the acquisition of new search and rescue aircraft would likely find strong support among the public — more so even than the purchase of new armoured vehicles or fighter jets, for instance — there is a lack of will inside the DND to push hard for the project.

In addition, the RCAF leadership is dominated by fighter pilots whose focus is squarely set on acquiring the F-35 fighter jet, sources say. At the same time, procurement staff in the federal government are lacking in expertise and skill needed to move the FWSAR program forward.

Jack Harris, defence critic for the official opposition New Democratic Party, blames government bungling for the delays in the program. “It’s very disturbing to see how long this process is taking, and there is no real excuse for it,” Harris explained. “Frankly, they’re dropping the ball.”

Harris said under an NDP government the emphasis would be placed on acquiring equipment to support security at home, such as improving search and rescue times.

Liberal Party defence critic Joyce Murray said FWSAR fits into a pattern of many Conservative government military equipment projects. “It’s been a combination of incompetence to manage a complex portfolio and an intention to announce and promise things they didn’t actually plan to deliver,” she explained.

Another problem is also looming on the horizon. The Harper government will call a federal election sometime in 2015. That is sure to add further delay to the project going forward, military and industry sources acknowledge. If the Conservatives lose the next election, that could see FWSAR being reset as a new government reviews its defence policy and financial situation.



Operation HESTIA: Haiti Five Years Later

By Rick Leswick

Operation HESTIA was launched by the Canadian Armed Forces as a humanitarian response to an earthquake that devastated the impoverished country of Haiti on January 12, 2010. It was a massive effort that included other Canadian governmental agencies and the military component numbered approximately 2000 service personnel.

The earthquake measured 7.0 on the Richter scale and 200,000 persons on the island nation were killed. Another 300,000 were injured and the country’s already fragile infrastructure, including power and communications, were greatly damaged.

Canada was one of the first countries that sent assistance, and on January 13, Prime Minister Stephen Harper contacted United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other international leaders to initiate a response to the situation. He also initially pledged $5 million dollars to support the effort.

The government acted within hours of the spectacular earthquake and 85 experts from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAIT), Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), the Canada Border Services (CBSA), Correctional Services of Canada (CSC) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were deployed.

A joint Canada-Norway Red Cross Field Hospital was funded by CIDA and 10 Canadian medical staff volunteered. Accredited humanitarian groups that established themselves on the ground in Haiti were supported by 19 technical support persons from Canada.

But the greatest contribution to the relief effort was provided by officers and members of the Canadian Forces, as 2000 personnel were deployed. Operation HESTIA was good to go.

A Naval Task Group, under the command of Captain (N) Art McDonald set sail from Halifax, Nova Scotia concurrent to an air component leaving Canada under the command of Colonel Scott Clancy. The hardware assembled for the mission was impressive, and included:  HMCS Athabaskan, with an on-board CH-124 Sea King helicopter; frigate HMCS Halifax; six CH-146 Griffon helicopters from 1 Wing Kingston squadrons; a CC-177 Globemaster; and a CC-130 Hercules aircraft.

Ground personnel included the tried-and-effective Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), supplied with three reverse osmosis water purification units, while search and rescue technicians (SAR Techs) and firefighters from across Canada made up the urban rescue and recovery team along with a detachment of military police.

The Land Force group, with personnel mostly from Canadian Forces Base Valcartier, Quebec was also created. Soldiers were drawn from this base particularly because of their ability to speak French, the language of Haiti. Included in this group were the Task Force Headquarters Commander’s staff and a squadron of signals. The Royal 22nd Regiment provided a light infantry battalion made up of two rifle companies, one service support company, a headquarters company, and a field engineer unit. Combat service support was maintained by 5 Service Battalion.

The military, along with civilian aircrews, evacuated more than 4,000 Canadians from the ravaged country.

Loaded Remark

The operation was not without controversy. An article by Roger Annis, a writer and coordinator of the Canada Haiti Action Network (CHAN), in the October 2010 edition of the Haïti Liberté, titled, “Exaggerated Claims: Assessing the Canadian Military’s Haiti Earthquake Response” is critical about the lack of medical aid that was provided during Op HESTIA. The article states: “HMCS Halifax provided no medical aid to the civilian population,” according to information Annis sourced to navy Commander Josée Kurtz, the then-captain of the Halifax.

Annis continues to write that DART was already onshore when the Halifax arrived, and that the Canadian Armed Forces provided no surgical assistance following the earthquake. Instead, Canada’s medical staff, working from a first-aid station, would refer serious cases to other facilities in the immediate region, or in Port-au-Prince. He describes the role of HMCS Halifax and her sister ship, Athabaskan as one that concentrated on providing security and order.

On March 12, 2010, Nova Scotia’s provincial newspaper, the Chronicle Herald reported: “Sailors didn’t take much aboard much in the way of relief aid — food packages, medical supplies or shelters — for distribution to Haitians.”

The newspaper also contradicted Stephen Harper’s claim that, “ships of the Atlantic Fleet were immediately ordered to Haiti from Halifax, loaded with relief supplies,” by reporting that personnel on the Halifax believed that the ship may have left with room to spare. “During the voyage some sailors wondered if the ships might have been better off staying in port a little longer — say 12 hours — to take on more relief supplies, food aid and medical equipment before sailing for Haiti.”

Stephen Maher, Ottawa Bureau reporter echoed the above sentiment, writing on March 12, 2010: “When HMCS Athabaskan and HMCS Halifax were ordered to sail on a humanitarian mission to Haiti on Jan 13, they worked through the night, passing boxes hand to hand, loading stores aboard the ships — everything they would need for the humanitarian mission.” He continued, “But sailors didn’t take much aboard in the way of relief aid — food packages, medical supplies or shelters — for distribution to Haitians.”

Opposition piles on

Stephen Harper was not only in journalists’ crosshairs, members of the opposition joined in the action. Jack Harris, NDP defence critic said, “It seems odd to me. They’ve been claiming all along that these vessels were bringing relief supplies.  Obviously there’s a serious error in communications with the public.”

The Liberals also jumped in, with then-Defence Critic Ujal Dosanjh commenting, “The prime minister may have inadvertently misspoken. I think he needs to clarify whether or not what he said was true.”

Defence Minister Peter McKay’s spokesman, Dan Dugas volleyed back claiming that the Navy did have relief supplies aboard. “I’ve asked the Navy this question and they came back and told me, ‘Halifax returned from sea, took off its Sea King (helicopter), and filled the ship with donations from locals, with tools, with equipment, with a doctor, with medical staff and equipment and water. Athabaskan was full of supplies, food aid and medical equipment before sailing for Haiti.”

Dosanjh appeared to divert any charges of mendacity away from Canadian Forces brass when he said, “These kinds of decisions aren’t military decisions. How soon to send something, these are political decisions that go up to ministers and ministers obviously have input or orders from Harper.” He continued, “They knew there was urgency, and we needed to get people there, but I think they may have been in too much haste in some instances.”

Dugas apparently half-agreed with the Liberal critic. “These ships left Halifax as quickly as possible, filled with relief, because of the pressing nature of the people of Haiti.”

But what was the need? Was it for relief aid or to establish what Commander Kurtz called “security and stability”? The senior naval officer synopsised the mission of the two navy ships at a conference organized by the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia in late 2010, describing the ship’s work during their five month stay as, “[to] save lives, mitigate suffering and assist the onshore activities of Canadian and other police, military and aid agencies.”

Even HMCS Halifax’s departure from Haiti at the end of the mission created controversy. The March 23, 2010 Globe and Mail reported, “The mission took its mobile air traffic control equipment with it, along with the heavy lift equipment it had temporarily installed as the Jacmel port. To this day, Jacmel’s roads and neighbourhoods remain littered with rubble and most of the earthquake victims still live in deplorable conditions.”

Did the navy leave too early?  What about the ground forces from the Van Doos?

Beyond politics

At the beginning of Op HESTIA it was reported that the French-Canadian regiment was scheduled to leave Haiti by the end of March because they were to deploy for training to California. Five years later Colonel Scott Clancy, who commanded the air element of Op HESTIA, had a different view of the scope of Canadian military operations.

“Millions of pounds of aid was supplied to Port-au-Prince,” he said in a recent interview with Esprit de Corps. Although he had never previously been to Haiti, he was familiar with the ground and had provided briefings to five or six air components that had been engaged with other missions in that country.

He described the city of Port-au-Prince — designed for about 400,000 inhabitants — as being a city of four million. Even before the quake, the infrastructure was stretched to its limits and horrific poverty and corruption dominated the entire country.

After the quake, the Colonel said, “There was absolute devastation of the infrastructure, and 60% of the buildings were destroyed.” This damage was mainly due to the poor construction materials that Haitians used in their structures, including concrete that was made using too much sand and water to stretch limited resources.

“A similar earthquake happened in Chile while we were in Haiti,” the Colonel recalls. “Because the Chileans used earthquake-proof materials, there were less than 100 casualties there.”

Before the mission, Haiti had already been known as a strife-ridden country with appalling levels of violence, but Colonel Clancy found that reputation to be exaggerated. “I never felt threatened. The people were very welcoming of the Canadian military.”

Clancy’s mission was defined as providing “air and aviation support” to ease the suffering of the Haitian people. “That was the spirit I kept during the entire mission,” he remarked. “Our job was literally not to hand out aid to Haitians, but to support the people who were doing it.”

Although Clancy’s personnel were not directly engaged in distribution, he did describe the activity of the military. “We unloaded millions of pounds of cargo in Jacmel and Port-au-Prince. We were evacuating people and delivering aid all with the aim of easing the suffering of the Haitian people — that was foremost in our minds.”

The air commander did not want his men and women to return to their homes and tell friends and relatives that all they did was, “see the insides of tents and helicopters,” so he set up a unique program of personal humanitarian aid. “Every single one of our guys went outside the wire at least once and many went five, or six, or seven times to spend a day directly delivering some actual aid.”

The soldiers and airmen helped at a local orphanage cleaning up rubble and helping the local ministry. “I wanted to give my men and women something they could take back to their families and tell them of their experiences.”

He continues to receive email from some of the Haitians his soldiers helped, including the airport manager in Jacmel, who Clancy still mentors about terminal operations.

Clancy is aware of some of the negative press surrounding Op HESTIA, and when he was asked if he would have done anything differently five years ago he answers directly, “No. I would not change my approach to operations at all.”

Canada moves on

Five years after the end of Op HESTIA, questions remain about the government’s hasty preparation for the mission in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, but that has little to do with the exemplary work Canadian soldiers performed once their boots hit the ground.

By January 28, refugee camps were organized in Jacmel, and food was being delivered by the UN, protected by Canadian soldiers. On January 28, the first post-quake baby was born at the DART clinic, a field hospital set-up on a harbour pier.

Canadian military firefighters busily inspected buildings in Jacmel to determine the safety and structural integrity of those facilities. A clinic and tent city for the homeless was constructed on the beach. Soldiers monitored Jacmel-area orphanages that had been known to engage in the despicable act of child-trafficking.

Op HESTIA officially ended on April 1, 2010 as the last of the Canadian military members left the island of Haiti from the Port-au-Prince International Airport. Five years later, Haiti remains one of the poorest, most corrupt countries in the world. Concerns about the criminal diversion of monetary and other aid continue, and in January 2013, Canada’s then-Minister of International Cooperation, Julian Fantino, announced that the government would review aid remittances over concerns about the use of those funds.

The 2000 Canadian Forces members who participated in Op HESTIA made a rapid and remarkable impact amid the devastation caused by an earthquake that killed over 200,000 unfortunate Haitians.

That the government may have not provided service personnel with proper aid supplies is troubling, but there is not a doubt that Canadian soldiers did their best under horrific conditions.  That must not be forgotten.

Terror Attacks in Canada: Is our nation at risk?

In the week following the shooting on Parliament Hill, the CBC published 79 related stories online, 72 of which were updated at some point in the hours or days following publication, presumably to include new facts and correct false information. In most cases, no indication was given on exactly which parts of the articles were edited, ignoring one of the most basic and fundamental rules of journalism.

The media ran wild with the story, treating it with all the gravity of 9/11.
While reporters in the nation’s capital were on lockdown immediately following the event, CBS News was already reporting that the gunman had been identified by U.S. government sources as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. Seven hours later, the story was edited, Zehaf-Bibeau’s name was removed, as well as any mention of government sources. However, later that evening, the shooter’s name and the government sources were added back, with the addition of the shooter’s middle name: Abdul.

How did the U.S. media obtain such privileged information while, as parliamentary reporter Josh Wingrove of The Globe and Mail put it, “Ottawa police tactical officers are here and very kindly pointed their guns at every reporter, ordering hands in the air and us to ground,” a post that has since been removed from Twitter?

Online news agencies can rectify their errors after publication, making it easy to speculate or even report falsities knowing they can be corrected once facts become clear and new information becomes available.

The initial post by CBC news, first published at 1000 hrs on the morning of the shooting, now contains remarks from Stephen Harper in the House of Commons, the names of Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Zehaf-Bibeau, along with a smiling photo of the former and another of the latter, posing under menacing fluorescent light, donning a keffiyeh and a rifle.
But tweets can be deleted. Facts can be added, edited, and taken away. Photos can tell a story when words cannot.

Even the RCMP is guilty of cherry-picking facts. An official statement said Zehaf-Bibeau had plans to travel to Syria, though his mother’s statement clearly indicated her son was bound for Saudi Arabia, a fact that many reputable news publications later corrected.

“They taped my conversation,” said Susan Bibeau, “so there can little doubt about the accuracy of what I said.” This error was never corrected, though RCMP Commissioner Mike Cabana later stated the RCMP did not see the need, since travellers destined for Syria often travel to Saudi Arabia first.

The language used by the media is equally troubling. In their coverage of events in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu just two days earlier, the Canadian Press and CityNews suggested that Martin Couture-Rouleau may have emerged from his overturned car after a high speed chase “brandishing a knife.” The police did not confirm this report, though several news agencies did publish an up-close image of an ornate-looking dagger laying in the grass. Though the likelihood of Couture-Rouleau being a danger to anyone after such a crash, knife or no knife, seems questionable, the reader is left to fill in the blanks.

Is Canada under attack?

Meanwhile, Harper’s language, that of the Prime Minister’s Office, and the RCMP is equally suggestive. Phrases like “violent extremist,” “radicalized ISIS sympathizer,” and “possible terrorist” are being bandied about freely. Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney called Zehaf-Bibeau and Couture-Rouleau “radical Islamic terrorists” in the House of Commons. “Remain vigilant,” the RCMP reminded Canadians in its statement on October 23.

Is such language called for at this time? When Richard Henry Bain opened fire outside the Metropolis theatre two years ago in Montréal, Québec before attempting to burn down the building with a molotov cocktail on the eve of Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois’ historic victory, no mention of terrorism was made, even though Bain showed signs of religious fanaticism and admitted his motives were politically motivated.

“Jesus sent me to stop separatism,” Bain told a judge. “I am a Christian soldier.” The judge ordered a psychiatric evaluation.

When Justin Bourque gunned down five RCMP officers in Moncton this past June, killing three and injuring two, the issue of terrorism was not raised, though his “strict Catholic upbringing” was often cited by news agencies.

Like the deplorable crimes of Zehaf-Bibeau and Couture-Rouleau, both were uncoordinated acts carried out by Canadian-born individuals with no clear affiliation to any terrorist group. And yet one clear difference is evident: neither Bourque nor Bain had any Islamic connection.
Terrorism was neither mentioned nor implied by the media or the government. The problem, it seems, is the lack of a clear and consistent definition of the word terrorism. As journalist Glenn Greenwald pointed out in an article for The Intercept, published following the incident in Saint-Jean, but before the Ottawa shooting, “The most common functional definition of ‘terrorism’ in Western discourse is quite clear. At this point, it means little more than: ‘violence directed at Westerners by Muslims.’”  

The official opposition has been more careful about branding these events as acts of terrorism. “We’re waiting for the full reports on what happened in each of the two incidents before we draw any firm conclusions,” said NDP MP and Public Safety Critic Randall Garrison, echoing the opinion expressed by Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair.

“Obviously it has raised concern about security and safety. We need to know what actually happened so that we don’t draw wrong conclusions and waste resources by putting our efforts in the wrong direction.”

Bill C-13 Rushed Through the House

While Canadians were still shaking their heads in disbelief over the tragic events in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu on October 20, Bill C-13 — a bill that was receiving heavy opposition until only recently — passed its final reading in the House of Commons, and proceeded to pass first reading in the Senate the very next day.

Not only is this controversial bill being pushed through abnormally fast while the Canadian public’s attention is fixed elsewhere, but as opposition MP Charmaine Borg pointed out in the House of Commons, “the government decided to hold the third reading debate on this extremely important bill on a Friday, when everyone knows that most members are not present in the House on Fridays. I think that is appalling.”

Until recently, Bill C-13 was commonly referred to as the “cyberbullying bill.” Today, it is almost uniformly being referred to as “anti-terrorist legislation.” Once passed, this new law would allow Canadian intelligence services like CSIS and CSEC to arrest people who have committed no crime if authorities believe they may commit an act of terrorism.

Considering how loosely our government interprets an “act of terrorism” — a term which now includes a hit-and-run — it’s not difficult to imagine how Bill C-13 could infringe on the rights of all Canadians.

The constitutionality of large portions of Bill C-13 have long been under question, particularly since the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling earlier this year on R. v. Spencer, where it was decided that internet users have a right to keep their personal information private and that governments cannot obtain this information without a warrant.

Warrantless disclosure and preventive arrests are contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. To date, this issue has largely been ignored by popular media.

Does Militarization Make Canadians Safer?

Canada ranks among the safest places to live worldwide. According to the Global Peace Index (GPI), we are the 7th safest country in the world. Contrast this with the U.S., which stands at 101. It’s thanks to Canada’s ranking that North America is considered the second most secure region in the world, after Europe.

The study looks at internal as well as external factors: ongoing domestic and international conflicts, crime rate, relations with neighbouring countries, etc., including of course, terrorist activity. Significantly, the GPI looks at a country’s level of militarization, its expenditures as a percentage of the GDP, nuclear and heavy weapons capability, ease of access to small arms and light weapons, etc. The more a country spends arming itself against its enemies, both at home and abroad, the less safe its people feel as a nation, the GPI concludes.

And yet we’re safer now than we have ever been. But as author Steven Pinker put it in The Better Angels of our Nature, “No matter how small the percentage of violent deaths may be, in absolute numbers there will always be enough of them to fill the evening news, so people’s impressions of violence will always be disconnected from the actual proportions.”

Are Canadians buying into the hype? A look at the commentary on any of the hundreds of articles published in the week following the incidents shows that reactions are mixed. “The only terrorist act is to allow such crimes to change who we are,” says one commenter on CBC.ca.

“There need be no new laws and no new measures of hate disguised as protection. Canadians prevailed, and despite the shock, we should not waiver or succumb to opportunists.”
Meanwhile, anti-Muslim backlash is everywhere. Another CBC commenter quips, “Ban all Muslim immigration. Enough already. If we did not allow for the immigration then he would likely not have been converted.”

Less mainstream online publications are not as divided. There isn’t as much tolerance for what looks like fearmongering and Islamophobia. “It’s a big leap from one nutbar with a gun to a terrorist attack,” says one Huffington Post commenter.

Others wonder why Harper has made no statement denouncing anti-Muslim hate crimes in Cold Lake, Alberta, while both NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau have issued statements showing their support for the Muslim community during this difficult time.

The First Defence Strategy and the Upcoming Election

It is in a government’s best interest to have a nation that feels calm and safe. Societies flourish in times of peace. Arts and culture develop more rapidly and the economy prospers. As Pinker noted, “Across time and space, the more peaceable societies also tend to be richer, healthier, better educated, better governed, more respectful of their women, and more likely to engage in trade.”

The Global Peace Index also reports a symbiotic relationship between peace, business, and national wealth. It draws a link between a nation’s peacefulness ranking and the size of its retail sector, stock market, and tourism industry.

Why, then, are these attacks being branded as attacks on all Canadians, our values and cultural beliefs, in a way that appears to sow fear and discontent, disrupting the peace that defines our very way of life here in Canada?

One possible motive may be to revive public support for the Conservative’s now defunct plan to increase defence spending. The Canada First Defence Strategy (CFDS), first introduced in 2008, would have seen $490 billion in military spending, including a laundry list of new ships, tanks and planes, but taxpayers’ appetite for the plan — and the government’s capacity to live up to their expensive promises — diminished as the recession set in, and even more so as plans for the sole-source purchase of 65 F-35 fighter jets, at a price tag of $45B, were made public. Could the suggestion that Canadians are in some way under threat allow Harper to make good on some of his promises in time for the 2015 election?

Treating Mental Illness in Canada

With both the media and the government working so diligently to brand Zehaf-Bibeau and Couture-Rouleau as terrorists, important facts are either understated or ignored. Let the record show: Three years ago Zehaf-Bibeau tried to rob a Vancouver McDonald’s with a stick. Court workers concluded an undiagnosed mental health disorder.

“If you release me, what’s going to happen again? Probably the same loop and I’m going to be right back here again,” he told a judge in December 2011.

Zehaf-Bibeau spent his final days in an Ottawa shelter for the homeless. This is a man who, by multiple accounts, believed the devil was after him; a man addicted to crack cocaine whose own mother questioned his mental stability. Susan Bibeau suggested that her son felt cornered and called the shooting a “last desperate act,” reminding us that in Islam it is forbidden to take one’s own life.

Whether or not he was driven by ideological and political motives, as the RCMP suggested, these are not the acts of an organized terrorist cell.

Using their deaths to propagate Islamophobia, pass new laws that circumvent the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, increase police presence and justify an increase in defence spending is not honouring the deaths of Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent.

Perhaps it would honour our soldiers and serve our country better to take a closer look at the way we treat the mentally ill. A PTSD epidemic in the military has long been ignored by our government. The CBC reported last year that returned soldiers are waiting up to six months for treatment. General Rick Hillier has long been calling for a public inquiry into mental health problems affecting our veterans.

Clearly, it’s not just our veterans struggling with mental health issues.

Moving Forward as a Nation

Any laws we pass that infringe upon the rights of some Canadians will also infringe upon the hard-won rights of all Canadians. It would be naive to think otherwise.

We lost two good soldiers. This is a fact. But it’s important to recognize that, overwhelmingly, the system worked. A madman with a long gun in a crowded public space could have taken the lives of many innocent people, if not for Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers.

Martin Couture-Rouleau had been placed on a watchlist and denied a passport, with good reason it seems. It is also possible that Zehaf-Bibeau was also denied a passport, though this has not been confirmed. Both were known to authorities. The RCMP had been tracking Couture-Rouleau’s online activity since June 2013, without the aid of the anti-terrorism provisions in Bill C-13.
Small-scale attacks on high-profile targets can be very effective for groups like ISIS, but only if the media, the government, and the people play along. The convenience of two such events happening back-to-back is most troubling given the timing in relation to Bill C-13, also coinciding with Canada’s first airstrikes in Iraq, just as we enter an election year.

As Seth Godin wrote following the incidents, “The media wants us to think that we’re on a precipice, every day ... It takes guts to say, ‘No, we’re not going to go there, even if the audience is itching for it.’”

It takes guts to ask hard questions. It takes guts to ask why police would fatally shoot a man who’d already flipped his car following a four-kilometre high-speed chase, or indeed to question any of the messages we’re bombarded with every day.

All media has an agenda, as do governments, as do people. Maybe it’s time we made some of those agendas a little more clear.

Cyber Warfare Part One: The Bad News

In Canada, the threat of cyber warfare is just as real. In 2013, the Canadian Cyber Incident Response Center reported that Canada saw a 25 per cent increase in malware hosting websites in the first quarter of that year alone.

Rafal Rohozinski, principal of the Canadian intelligence and technology company SecDev Group says, “Your life has become digitized in ways that it never has before.”
He’s right. Our bank accounts, military, even streetlights rely on cyberspace. “With reliance come vulnerability,” explains Rohozinski.

The potential for damage only increases as we become more and more plugged-in. How long would Canadians have supported the war effort in Afghanistan if the Taliban had shut-off the heat during the winter and the AC in the summer?

Cyber warfare is here to stay, and yet few of us even know for sure what it is. It seems intuitive enough, but consider this: has anyone declared a cyber war on anything, ever? We’ve all heard about computers in Texas being used to control drones in the skies of Pakistan, but that smacks of the same kinetic warfare that we’ve seen before. Just put the jet pilot in front of a computer and the difference is negligible.


Cyber warfare is not the use of computers to support traditional military action. Cyber war is the use of computers as both weapons and targets in and of themselves, for the purpose of dominating and subduing an opponent in the same way as any other form or war. The sole difference is that, instead of fighting to achieve tactical domination in the sky, land, sea, or space, we fight for control of cyberspace; that ethereal realm that links and pervades every other strategic domain.

“What we’re seeing, essentially, is another dimension of the potential battlefield,” says Jez Littlewood, an associate professor at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. In the same way that saboteurs might plant bombs to blow up a critical bridge, well-placed logic bombs in the nation’s power grid and communication hubs can make resisting a kinetic attack nearly impossible.

While we may not have seen that scenario play out fully in the new world of cyber warfare, we have seen the groundwork laid. In 2009, for instance, U.S. intelligence agencies detected cyber penetrations and software programs left behind in the U.S. power grid, which were later credited to China and Russia.  

In 1982, Soviet spies stole a computer system from a Canadian company. What the Soviets didn’t know was that the CIA had planted a logic bomb inside the system, and allowed the Soviets to steal it. Once the Soviets installed the system into one of their Siberian oil pipelines, the logic bomb was then activated, causing the stolen system to malfunction, and blowing up the oil pipeline in a huge and fiery explosion.

Seems farfetched? It shouldn’t. In a world populated by an ever-growing number of nuclear weapons, cyber war is the name of the game, and whoever doesn’t play loses by default.
No example illustrates this better than Stuxnet. In 2010, the now well-known Kaspersky Lab — a Russia cyber security company — discovered the Stuxnet computer worm. It is credited with causing a fifth of Iranian centrifuges to malfunction. As expected, the authors of the worm have not taken credit for their work. However, given the complexity of the cyber weapon itself, most turn to the United States and Israel as probable culprits.

This event revolutionized warfare in the 21st century. “Stuxnet was clearly, purposefully designed for a specific task, as opposed to more general disruption activities,” says Littlewood.
Amidst Israeli threats to bomb targets in Iran from the air, the feasibility of using of cyber weapons to achieve traditional military objectives is no longer in question — it is a fact. No casualties, and no expensive military hardware is required. Used on a mass scale, cyber weapons have the potential to bring an adversary to their knees without knowing with certainty what, or who, hit them.

Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu said that the height of victory in war is overcoming the enemy without fighting. If there was ever a candidate to fill that role, cyber warfare would be it.
Effective, cheap, anonymous and relatively easy, cyber warfare is quickly becoming the number one tool for serious 21st century militaries. According to Rohozinski, 10 to 15 years ago Canada and its closest Anglo-Saxon allies enjoyed a significant advantage in cyberspace, but that advantage is quickly disappearing.

Why should a weaker military engage in combat with a superior defence force when it could remove the defender’s ability to defend at all? From the satellites that channel communications to computers operating radar systems, once you possess the means of acquiring and manipulating your enemy’s information, the size of the opposing army becomes a less important point.

Richard Clarke’s book, Cyber War (2010) details cyber-sabotage efforts prior to the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Americans began by compromising the closed military network of the Iraqi Defense Ministry. In addition to limiting Iraqi communication capacity, e-mails composed by the Americans were sent across the system instructing Iraqi personnel to leave tank units arranged outside their bases, and to walk away. Many units did so, and when the air campaign began, American air power had little difficulty dealing with Iraqi armour.

But how does Canada stack up in cyberspace? And why would the modern militaries of the 21st century turn their cyber weapons on us? The truth is there is a lot more behind Canada’s peacekeeping persona than meets the eye.

In June 2012, Edward Snowden — formerly an employee of both the CIA and NSA — released documents which included a power point presentation made for, and by, our very own CSEC (Communications Security Establishment Canada). Classified as Top Secret, the slides elaborate on the tool used by CSEC to hack into the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy. Titled “Advanced Network Tradecraft,” the presentation details the tool called “Olympia” which would help map out the Brazilian computer and phone network.

According to the slides, CSEC intended to work with the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) unit to ultimately monitor all communications sent out by the Ministry of Mining and Energy. Once inside the Brazilian communications network, it goes without saying that the potential for causing more damage simply increases. In 2013, Brazil was the sixth-largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Canada at $18.3 billion.

What could motivate Canada to risk its relationship with Brazil? Officials have not said, but it might have something to do with the $20 billion in Canadian exports and investments directed at that country, and the needs of corporate Canada.

This is the nature of the world today. Behind the professions of economic, political, and military partnership, a silent and secret war is being waged with cyber weapons as the chief tools. China, in particular, has articulated this point well, relying on cyber war as an equalizer to balance against the power asymmetries of the United States and any other militarily superior forces.

In a book titled Unrestricted Warfare (1999), two senior PLA colonels articulate a strategy of “war beyond-limits,” which means using every tool at the disposal of the nation in the conduct of war. Every aspect of statecraft, the book argues, is ultimately a means to achieve domination. They argue that buying news outlets in the enemy nation to spread propaganda, sowing turmoil in the enemy’s economy, and of course, cyber war are prime methods through which a weaker state can overpower a stronger one.

By achieving information dominance through the use of cyber tools, a weaker state can paralyze a modern fighting force by manipulating the society around them.

For all the hype, however, we have been here before. The evolution of war has always hinged on technological innovation. Consider the way that tank developments in World War I preceded an understanding of sophisticated strategy around a full armored division, or how nuclear weapons changed strategic thought.

“We are probably in that same time frame of evolution ourselves in the cyber domain at this point in time,” says Littlewood. The fact that cyber war remains cloaked in secrecy and denial, paired with the relative lack of experience in its use, has made cyber war one of the least understood or studied military capability.

Until now, spies primarily used cyber war techniques to gather information. As the role of intelligence services shifts towards covert action and, in some cases, even replaces military strikes, it falls on the military to adapt to the new threat environment.
How well is the Canadian military adapting to the new cyber battlefield? That is a question for part two of this saga on cyber war.

A SINGING SISTERHOOD: Canadian Military Wives Choir

Growing up a military brat, Sonia Clark said with a lighthearted laugh that she always swore she wouldn’t marry into the Canadian Forces lifestyle.

And yet, there she found herself; her husband, a master corporal, is deployed to an undisclosed location. She’s still adjusting to life in a fairly new posting to Ottawa, and her two boys had back-to-back hockey tournaments on weekends that her daughter – a competitive dancer – had to attend rehearsal.

Her closest relative lives 1,700 km away, so looking to family for assistance is out of the question.

But when Sonia posted a request on a military family community Facebook page, inquiring whether anyone could help by hosting her daughter and ensuring she made it to practice, the offers rolled in with little hesitation.

The source of these generous offers of support? Not surprisingly to Sonia, they all came from her peers at the Military Wives Choir.

“It’s like a big family—almost like a sisterhood,” she said of the group, which was formed by Sue Palmer, a military spouse who moved to the Ottawa area from the United Kingdom in July 2013 with her husband, who transferred into the Canadian Forces.

Prior to coming to Canada, Sue was a member of the British Military Wives Choir, which has been hugely successful. There are now almost 80 choir groups of spousal support across the UK.

“It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced,” she told Esprit de Corps. 

Armed with her experience, she quickly put out feelers on an Ottawa Facebook military community group to test the appetite in the area for a military spouse choir group. She saw strong initial interest, and brought musical director Allison Houston on board, who volunteered for the first term while the group got off the ground.  

There were 14 wives at the first meeting, and that number has now climbed to more than 50.

Despite the musical thread that weaves them all together, Sue (who is now the president of the organization) explained, “it’s not really about the singing.”

The choir is open to any local military spouse, and there is no vocal experience or talent necessary.

Sonia saw Sue’s post about the choir on the Facebook group, and said she was immediately intrigued.

“I was looking for something that was my own,” she said. “When you’re a military spouse, you’re always kind of following along, and whenever you move to a new community you’ve got to figure out what role you’ll [play].” She added that she “went out to the first practice and just fell in love with it.”

Sonia describes the choir as welcoming and completely non-judgmental. There are women from all lifestyles, and of all ages who bring varying perspectives and strengths to the group, she said.

A singing sisterhood

As Sonia explained, there are unique sets of struggles that come with being a military spouse, which can make it difficult to relate to civilians.

“Deployments are not necessarily safe, so not only are you holding down the fort on this end, but you’re worrying, and you’re doing your best to try and communicate with your partner, but it’s not always possible.”

Sonia said that sometimes, when she ends a conversation with her deployed husband, she won’t know when she’ll hear from him next.

“We don’t always know where they are or what they’re doing. In military relationships, we have to have a really high level of trust,” she explained, adding that it makes things easier being able to talk to other women who have been in the same situation.

Heather Cudmore-McCarthy, another member of the choir, echoed similar sentiments.

A military spouse for 22 years, Heather, her husband – who is in the Royal Canadian Air Force – and their four children had just recently moved to Ottawa when she read about the choir.

“When you move around a lot, having something that you can go to, and call your own, is really important...It helped the transition.”

Heather said her quality of life as a wife, a mother, and a woman has changed for the better since she joined the choir.

The road ahead

 As the Ottawa-based Military Wives Choir continues to grow, so too does its list of goals.

“In my dream world, every base would have a choir family, so that when you get posted, you leave one choir family behind, but there’s another one waiting for you with open arms,” said Sonia.

Sue explained that there has been growing interest in various communities across the country, but that finding the funds and a musical director is a challenge in some areas. The Military Wives Choir would like to put together a starter kit, which could be sent to women across Canada who want to start their own branch of the choir.

Ideally, the starter kit would include a tip sheet, a list of contacts, and some funds to help get the new group kick started.

But the Ottawa-based group of spouses also have their own fundraising hurdle to try and clear: the group has been asked to sing at the Canadian International Military Tattoo at the end of May, and is looking to raise $7,000 to cover the cost of the bus.

Being asked to perform at the Tattoo, as well as other a special events like the service for the families of the fallen, which took place in the Senate Chamber on Parliament Hill in May, Remembrance Day ceremonies, Christmas festivities on Parliament Hill, the 7th  annual Take a Veteran to Dinner Night on October 26th at Tudor Hall, as well as the Esprit de Corps charity hockey game in September have been an honour, said Sonia.

“I can’t explain the difference that it’s made over the last year and a half – just in my confidence, in my own feelings of security and feeling like I have an outlet. It’s doing something that I love to do with an amazing group of women. It’s just wonderful.”

To donate to the Military Wives Choir, please visit the donation page of their website at www.CanadianMilitaryWivesChoir.ca.


Three blind mice

By Michael Nickerson

No doubt you’ve heard the tale of the Three Blind Mice: poor little rodents, suffering from what might have been anything from nearsightedness to full macular degeneration, stumbling around until a sadistic spouse of some tired farmer cuts their tails off. Like all nursery rhymes, the first question that comes to mind is, why do we scare our children with such stories? Is it any wonder a bunch of hippies came up with Sesame Street?

But the second question is, why didn’t the silly sods go see an optometrist or, at the very least, open their damn eyes? You never know what you’ll see until you try, right? But that’s scary stuff. Ignorance, as they say, is bliss, and what is ignorance but simply wilful blindness.

And so it goes with the three federal party leaders in Ottawa. Faced with the reality of Middle East conflict and conflict in general, they close their eyes as hard as they can. Stumble around, keep talking, and hope you don’t get your tail hacked off. Inspiring bunch aren’t they?

While the anonymous English troubadour who came up with the blood-laden tale never actually bothered to name the myopic rodents in question, we’re going to update the story and call them Stephen, Thomas, and Justin.

So, children, gather round. There once was a mouse called Stephen, who had a grand vision (pardon the pun) in his tiny rodent mind, a conservative vision: less government, less tax, to each their own. He closed his eyes tight, and wished and wished and wished that it would all come true. But that didn’t work. So he learned that if he kept saying what people wanted to hear, that it did work.

You didn’t have to actually do what you said you would do, like support your military or its veterans or stand up and defend human rights. You just had to say you would. And you didn’t need to be consistent, either. Threaten war with someone one year; ask their permission to help them fight their own civil war the next. Just keep talking because everyone is as blind and ignorant as you. Genius!

So that’s blind mouse number one. Blind mouse number two, Thomas, sees things a little differently (yeah, another pun, so sue me). Thomas has an idea in his head that he can knock that dirty rat (nay mouse) out of office, move in, and enjoy some cheese. And Thomas Mouse has heard some bad things about Stephen Mouse, like that he supported doing something stupid in 2003 that we’ve all since heard was, well, stupid. Thomas decided we shouldn’t do that again.

Why? Because it didn’t work in 2003. Genius!

And this brings us to blind mouse number three: a good-looking little rodent by all accounts, incurably photogenic, or so the sighted claim. This mouse figures the cheese will come to him naturally. He was born to it after all; just wait and all the rest of the mice will carry him to his rightful block of cheddar. Lazy!

So Justin the mouse really doesn’t say much at all, leaving it to a far older and wiser member of the Liberal burrow to explain things for him. And while his uncle Chrétien was right to speak of the need for substantial humanitarian aid to help ease the symptoms of war, he still doesn’t see, nor did he ever see the big picture.

Blind mice can’t do that. If they ever had the courage to get their eyesight sorted out, they’d see that air strikes and aid are nothing more than lances and plasters to soothe a dying patient. The stark reality for anyone who has the guts to see it is that conflict resolution involves massive investment: emotional, physical, and monetary. That means a commitment to an engaged, balanced foreign policy that puts ideology and pandering to the home crowd aside to achieve ongoing dialogue. It means investing in a strong military to be prepared for the worst, put substance behind the words, and help enforce the peace if it is ever achieved. It means not token humanitarian effort and aid, but substantial effort and aid.

All of that costs. It costs a lot, far more than any budget surplus or tax break will ever allow. But don’t expect a bunch of nearsighted mice wrapped in ideology, ambition, or divine right to admit to that, much less point it out to anyone. There’s the cheese to consider, after all. Loss of body parts be damned.

The golden silence of counterterrorism

By Murray Brewster

The summons from Foreign Affairs early last May was hasty and almost had a whiff of panic. Members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, although accustomed to being herded, are rarely cowed and that’s what made the command performance of the denizens of the Lester B. Pearson building so memorable.

The world’s outrage over the kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls was in a full Twitter mode at the time. West Africa’s Boko Harem, the jihadists of the moment, had captured the attention of our attention deficit disordered society. We watched for a few weeks last spring, until we got bored, and then moved on to some other international outrage in a year that has — so far — been full of them.

Virtually all of the 250 girls remain as captive sex slaves, cooks and porters, despite our hashtag frenzy. Abubakar Shekau’s army continues its march of the undead, bombing and harassing authorities in the name of Islam in at least two countries. But it was at the height of their notoriety in the Western media that Foreign Affairs demanded an audience with the ink-stained set, including yours truly.

What had them exercised was a CTV report that suggested Canada had dispatched JTF2 to assist in the counterterrorism operation taking shape in Nigeria. But the plight of the school girls was far from their minds. Instead, the Foreign Affairs counterterrorism team said it was skittish about what publicity might mean for Sister Gilberte Bussière.


Bussière, 74, was a Quebec nun who — along with two Italian priests — had fallen into the clutches of “two armed groups,” on April 5, or so the initial statement from her parish had said. Foreign Affairs, at that time, offered its usual taciturn or tongue-tied comment, saying it was aware of the reports and then proceeded to leave the heavy lifting of public accountability to the Italian foreign ministry.

Turns out she was being held by Boko Haram.

What followed in this meeting (I participated by conference call, as did most journalists) was among one of the most bizarre passive-aggressive displays I’ve ever witnessed in Ottawa, one of those ‘I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’’’ conversations. We were essentially told to stop reporting or “speculating” about the counterterrorism activities “that may or may not be true” because it could endanger Bussière.

Officials seemed offended we would put such a fine point on it.

“I most certainly did not say anybody should shut up,” said a senior official, who spoke on deep background.  “What I wanted to do was inform you about the risk about the level of detail that’s available. You can make whatever decisions you deem are appropriate.”

The session was deemed off the record and it’s no wonder. Not only did officials claim there was a threat to the captive nun, but the mere mention of a Canadian response put diplomats and other civilians at risk in the Nigerian capital of Abujia.

“It’s really the reporting itself that is the issue here,” said another official who also wouldn’t speak publicly. “Putting Canada in the headlines puts the girls in danger and the Canadian citizen.”
Fair enough. Despite what some cynics may think, no journalist worth knowing wants to get anyone killed for the sake of a headline. We have respected – albeit grudgingly sometimes — information embargoes for reasons of decency, national security, as well as life and death.

Embedded media in Kandahar out of consideration withheld notification of combat deaths until the families of the fallen were notified. There were news blackouts on some combat operations until troops were safely behind the wire. And the blanket of secrecy cast over special forces operations, for the most part, is obeyed.

Even in kidnappings we’ve been known to play ball, especially when it struck a little too close to home. The snatching of CBC-TV reporter Mellissa Fung in October 2008 by a criminal gang in Afghanistan saw a wholesale conspiracy to keep silent among the Canadian media. In fact, the public broadcaster went to extraordinary lengths to keep the story out of the news when it looked like an American publication was about to break ranks.

Mention the Fung kidnapping to some senior managers who were around at the time and it makes them fidgety. It was an extraordinary event that took place three days before the end of a closely fought federal election in which the growing unpopularity of the war had featured prominently, if only for its enormous cost.

What happened to Fung was news. More than that, it was news that might have affected the outcome of the election. The Canadian public didn’t even know she was missing until almost a month later when she was released. The silence had been so complete, it was almost spooky.
Would we have backed off so firmly and decisively had it not been one of our own? Unlikely. Was there more than a whiff of hypocrisy in the grumbling of those who grumbled about being told to keep silent in the Bussière case? You bet. Did we accord former deputy defence minister and UN envoy Bob Fowler the same courtesy when he and Louie Guay were captured by an al-Qaeda offshoot in Niger a few months after Fung? Nope.

Security consultants told the CBC that silence was the best policy to get their reporter back alive and it is pretty much the boilerplate advice those in the burgeoning hostage-negotiating business give to decision-makers. Quite frankly, I don’t think anyone disputes the need for some degree of silence when lives — both the hostage’s and the rescuers’ — are at stake.
What is missing is a fair degree of accountability following these events. Those who operate in the shadows naturally disagree.

“There’s always accountability for the use of Canadian assets, whether or not it’s reporting through the minister to the House or to committees,” said the senior official.


When was the last time you saw a minister stand in the House and answer questions about the action or inaction of Canadian counterterrorism authorities, including JTF2? When was the last time you saw a Commons committee delve into such details or challenge the level of funding?
Both the RCMP and CSIS have their watchdogs and the NDP, when it gets worked up, calls for an oversight body for special forces. I’m not sure another bureaucracy is needed when the military already has a great, big, shining one of its own.

In case you believe these are abstract arguments, consider the events of the last few months and how the new jihadists of the moment — ISIL or ISIS — have elevated hostage-taking and brutal YouTube executions into a powerful weapon of war, one capable of moving nations.
How long will it be before we see a Canadian in an orange jumpsuit? Heaven forbid, but if we do, you can bet the questions won’t be very polite and there won’t be much silence.

There’s more in common between Air Strikes in Iraq and Casual sex than you’d think

By Stewart Webb

This is one of those headlines you probably won’t find attached to any of a number of trite LinkedIn articles flying around the Internet: “How casual sex taught me the dangers of isolated air power application in fledgling military campaigns.” Catchy, I know. Why, you may ask? Both are, well, complex situations.

U.S. Air Force General Michael Hayden (also former director of both the CIA and the National Security Agency) agrees. General Hayden told American media that “The reliance on air power has all of the attraction of casual sex: It seems to offer gratification but with very little commitment.”

The first rule that applies to either situation is prepare yourself. You are going out and want to look and act your best. Canada’s first step was to send soldiers from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) to train members of the Iraqi army and Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga militia forces in the finer secrets of calling in close air support. An admirable start as Russia is starting to deliver new Su-25 fighter jets and Mi-25 attack helicopters as part of the defence deal they signed in 2012.

Canada sent a contingent six CF-18s, two Aurora surveillance aircraft, a Polaris refuelling plane and about 600 Canadian Armed Forces personnel to Iraq to aid U.S. efforts to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The motion snuck through Parliament by a mere 23 votes.
Canada’s commitment is similar to that of our Australian and Dutch allies. However, the Dutch scaled back their initial involvement of 10 F-16s to just six fighter aircraft given the state of their F-16 fleet. The Australians, on the other hand, committed eight new warplanes, including six of its new F/A-18F Super Hornets they bought as a stop-gap measure until the F-35 is ready. This is something the Harper government has not considered.

Which brings us to this casual sex scenario: One goes to the bar and looks around the room and there are attractive targets everywhere, or so it seems. You meet one person who has an irritating voice or mentions a significant other back home. You are soon disappointed to realize that there aren’t many potential targets. At the time of writing this, few ISIS targets have presented themselves in Iraq and follows suit with this simile.

Australia’s first combat mission resulted in finding nothing. Britain destroyed two vehicles in its second round of air strikes and the Dutch destroyed ISIS vehicles that were attacking Kurdish peshmergas with three bombs.

It seems that Canada’s CF-18 commitment has more to do with freeing up willing aircraft to launch air strikes in Syria than it does with hitting ISIS where it hurts.

Conducting air strikes alone is like being the outspoken guy at the bar, making a lot of noise and generating attention for himself. With this strategy, you run the risk of being drawn in and trapped in a relationship after a one-night stand. It is doubtful that Canada will deploy ground troops to Iraq to fulfil an active combat role against ISIS. That role belongs solely to the Iraqi Army and the Kurdish peshmergas to the north.

Unfortunately, this is only half of the problem as ISIS also controls parts of Syria. At the moment, a plan is still being discussed and debated about the Syrian question. The U.S. has developed a plan to train moderate Syrian rebels, but has shown admirable restraint. The training of the moderate Syrian rebels might also constitute an act of regime change, as the rebels would continue their offensive against Assad-government forces.

This policy might become a hangover for the U.S. and its coalition allies. The arming of the various Kurdish militias has also raised criticism from some commentators and the Turkish government. It has raised concerns that those armaments given to the Iraqi Kurds to fend off ISIS will fall into the hands of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — a group with which the Turkish government has fought a 30-year insurgency.

Another issue that should be raised is the future of ISIS after the bombs are dropped. If the Iraqi Army and Kurdish peshmergas can squeeze ISIS out of Iraq, what future does ISIS have?

It is becoming clear that various militant groups in North Africa, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), are fracturing along ISIS/anti-ISIS lines. If ISIS becomes cornered, it may try to branch out to approachable splinter groups. Algerian security services are already apprehensive about Algerian fighters returning to the region. Armed with battlefield experience, training, and being part of a group that declared its own caliphate might breed a more formidable foe.

Which brings us to the last part of a casual hook up — waking up and rolling over completely overwhelmed with regret from the night before. A lot more needs to be done or we may roll over and regret our decisions. ISIS may branch out to North Africa and take advantage of the deteriorating situation in Libya and the greater Maghreb. Kurdish separatists may continue their fight for independence and disrupt what is left of the region’s stability.

There are a lot of variables and we should be taking precautionary measures or we could find ourselves on a second date.


Dishonour from the crown: It’s time for the government to step up and honour its promises to veterans

by Michel W. Drapeau & Joshua M. Juneau

Generally speaking, a veteran (originating from the Latin word “vetus” meaning “old”) is a person who has had long service or experience in a particular occupation or field. Using everyday language, military veterans are considered those persons who have served or are serving in the armed forces, particularly those who have had direct exposure to acts of military conflict; these persons are referred to as war veterans.

However, as matters now stand, the definition of a military veteran is not only dusty and non-standardized, but is in dire need of an upgrade to ensure both consistency and simplicity.
Consider that for the purpose of health care benefits, Veterans Independence Program and Long Term Care, the terms “allied veteran,” “Canada service veteran,” “dual-service veteran,” “grandfathered veteran,” “income-qualified veteran,” “merchant navy veteran,” “overseas service veteran,” “veteran,” and “veteran pensioner” — each have their own separate meaning.
Consider also that the New Veterans Charter defines veteran as a “former member.” This seems logical. However, this definition is markedly incongruous with that provided under the War Veterans Act, which defines veteran to exclusively mean a person who served in a theatre of war. More interestingly, by definition, the last war that Canada participated in was the Korean War. Therefore, because there has been no recognized wars since 1953, there have technically been no war veterans since that conflict.

One would think that this wold be an easy problem to solve. In the thousands of laws passed by Parliament over the past century and a half, one would think that at least one of them would define the term of military veteran. Using the dictionary definition, consider that one could be deemed a military veteran with just one day of military service, even with a dishonourable release. At present, whether or not one is considered a veteran depends entirely upon which veteran program or benefit one is applying for.

What happened to the term “war”?

It seems as if Canada officially no longer partakes in war. Instead, our members serve in “conflict areas” or “theatres of operation” — no longer theatres of “war.” This flowery language is problematic because it diminishes the valiant service our men and women have committed in the last 50 years.

By all accounts, Afghanistan was a war, so was Bosnia, and so too was the Persian Gulf. So too will be Syria. Wars and conflicts leave scars — both physical and mental — to which the Canadian government owes a responsibility of care.

Wearisome effect on war veterans

The most vulnerable of all war veterans are those who are aged, infirmed, and partly or wholly disabled and unable to support themselves financially. These veterans are numerous, and spread across the country – many of whom are living in isolated areas under the care of families or friends. Thankfully, the government recognizes this class of veterans, and provides monthly financial assistance to them or their survivors to help them meet their basic needs. For veterans of Korea and the Second World War whose income is less than approximately $42,000, Veterans Affairs will provide allowances in order to help make ends meet. This is done through the War Veterans Allowance. In this way, these older veterans are given deserved welfare considerations, for the dedication and sacrifice they have paid for our freedom.

On April 1, 2006 the New Veterans Charter was enacted, and several awards, including the War Veterans Allowance, were reduced by pension awards, employment income or disability awards (offsets). These offsets were applied universally and with heavy public scrutiny because they had the practical effect of reducing the quality of life of our most vulnerable and low-income veterans. The policy consideration underpinning these cutbacks is obvious: to save money. In our opinion, it is shameful that any government would seek to keep money in the coffers by taking from those who fought to preserve our system of government.

The ebb and flow of Parliament

In June 2012, shortly after the class action lawsuit of Manuge v. The Queen was settled, then-Minister of Veterans Affairs Steven Blaney stated:
“I am happy to announce that our government is taking action to harmonize our disability benefits at Veterans Affairs to reflect the planned changes to SISIP … With these changes, Veterans Affairs’ disability pension will no longer be deducted from … the War Veterans Allowance … This is a very positive change for our men and women injured in service to Canada who will now receive the benefits and services that they are entitled to.”

But will the department walk the walk? Only the future will tell.

Indeed, at the time that Blaney’s statement was issued, we viewed it with optimism, as it demonstrated that the department had a commitment to aiding veterans, and considered the claw back of pension awards from the War Veterans Allowance as an entitlement. Surely, we naïvely surmised, this would result in the reimbursement of claw backs improperly taken since the inception of the New Veterans Charter!

Partial repayment

On October 1, 2012, as a consequence of the Manuge class action settlement, the claw backs from the War Veterans Allowance were cancelled. In fact, the Conservative government offered retroactive repayment of these offsets from April 1, 2012. The problem is that this leaves a six-year window (2006 – 2012) where the claw backs have not been reimbursed. We find this troublesome, particularly given that the department has referred to these payments, wrongfully reclaimed, as an entitlement.

The Canadian government boasts it will have a balanced budget in 2015, but at least part of this budget was balanced by taking money from our most vulnerable veterans. Despite the fact that these claw backs were deemed an entitlement back in 2012, nothing has been done to fully restore our war veterans financially. Is this really how the Canadian government values our troops? In our opinion, cost savings should not even be on the radar when discussing caring for our own.

Election 2015 may cause ‘all ears’

Given that next year will be an election year, perhaps the time is ripe to apply some pressure for these payments to be made. A government must not be permitted to make empty promises to its most vulnerable and deserving persons: patriots, who when called upon by their nation were among those who valiantly stepped forward in the face of tyranny to, if required, give a full measure of devotion in the defence of freedom and democracy.

If you are a recipient of the War Veterans Allowance, or if you know of someone who is receiving this allowance, we would like to hear from you. Please contact us at info@mdlo.ca.



Special Ops: Wishlist of new gear

By David Pugliese

Canada’s special forces are embarking on a significant push to acquire new equipment over the coming decade. It’s an initiative that could mean up to $600 million in new business for industry. The acquisitions will run the gamut from boots and crew-served weapons to surveillance aircraft to specialized armour vehicles that can be modified in the field for various missions. The Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) outlined some of its equipment needs for Esprit de Corps:

New Vehicles

One of the command’s more significant purchases over the coming years will be the acquisition of the next-generation fighting vehicle or NGFV.

CANSOFCOM spokesman Maj. Steve Hawken describes the NGFV as a multi-role vehicle comprising of different variants that can be outfitted for various special forces missions.
CANSOFCOM previously had a special operations vehicle project that was designed to replace the command’s existing fleet of High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs) made by American heavy vehicle manufacturer AM General.

The project was cancelled in 2010 after CANSOFCOM procurement specialists determined that the Supacat, the only vehicle that was bid for the procurement, did not meet all its requirements. Sources say CANSOFCOM’s requirements were unrealistic, particularly for the small production run of vehicles it wanted to procure.

Instead, a decision was made to overhaul and extend the life of the existing HMMWV fleet, a process to be finished by the end of this year. This overhaul of the HMMWVs will extend their life to 2024, at which point these vehicles would be replaced by the NGFVs.

Based on current timelines, CANSOFCOM is expected to receive its first deliveries of next-generation fighting vehicles (NGFV) in 2022–2025, Hawken said.

The preliminary budget estimates for this project range between $115 million to $249 million, but a more accurate figure will be determined when CANSOFCOM better determines what it is looking for in a new vehicle.

“At this time, the exact quantities (of NGFVs) have not been finalized as the project is currently in the definition phase,” Hawken explained. “In general terms, the NGFV will comprise a few different variants of vehicles suited to perform CANSOFCOM missions as required.”
Previously though, CANSOFCOM stated the number of vehicles it needed would not exceed 100. The command believes that there are off-the-shelf products that could satisfy its current requirements.

Options for the project will be looked at in 2015 and a request for proposals released to industry two years later. A contract would be awarded in 2018.

Ken Yamashita, General Dynamics Land Systems – Canada’s manager of corporate affairs, said the company is continuing to maintain contact with CANSOFCOM to keep abreast of developments in the project. “We are considering a number of General Dynamics products, including the Ocelot, for this program,” he said.

The Ocelot, which the British military call the Foxhound, has a modular design, allowing for quick modifications of its cabin for specific missions. As its basis, it has a protective pod capable of carrying six soldiers. It was originally developed by Force Protection Europe and Ricardo, a specialist engineering/transport design firm based in the UK.

Ocelot comprises a core automotive armoured spine or “skateboard” onto which one of a number of alternative special role “pods” can be mounted, according to Ricardo. These pods include a patrol, fire support or protected logistics vehicle and the pods are easily interchangeable in the field as the need requires, the company says. The V-shaped hull configuration formed by the combination of skateboard and pod, coupled with the use of the latest in advanced composite technology, provides a practical vehicle package with exceptional manoeuvrability, operational flexibility, and unparalleled levels of occupant protection for a vehicle of its class, the firm noted.
The NGFV isn’t the only new vehicle CANSOFCOM intends to purchase; it will also acquire a new fleet of commercial pattern armoured vehicles. “With the expansion of CANSOFCOM in 2006, it has been identified that there is a shortage of out of area commercial pattern armoured vehicles (CPAV),” Hawken explained.

The armoured SUVs are to be used to transport VIPs as well as be used on other overseas missions where CANSOFCOM personnel need a lower profile.

Different variants will be purchased and the winning contractor would provide integrated logistic support. That would include initial cadre training and the first two years of in-service support, according to CANSOFCOM.

The cost of the project is estimated to be between $20 million and $49 million. A contact would be awarded in 2015, with final delivery of the vehicles taking place in 2017.
Hawken said that, because of operational security issues, the command is not going to provide a specific detailed description of the vehicles and quantities to be purchased.

New equipment for CSOR

The Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) based in Petawawa, Ont., will receive an influx of new gear over the next several years, allowing it to achieve full operational capability (FOC).
The focus will be on procurement of commercial off-the-shelf or military off-the-shelf equipment. Preliminary estimates for the project run between $50 million to $99 million. Request for proposals will be released next year, with deliveries starting in 2021.
“There are a number of procurements planned to achieve CSOR FOC ranging from boots and radios to crew-served weapons,” Hawken explained. For security reasons, he would not go into specifics.

Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance

Another area where CANSOFCOM wants to acquire a new capability is with an initiative it is calling the Manned Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (MAISR) Procurement Project.

This will involve the acquisition of a small fleet of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft to improve the command’s capability to track and target insurgents on the ground. Four aircraft will be purchased, each outfitted with a signals intercept capability and sensors to target movement on the ground.

The planes would be operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force and be mainly for CANSOFCOM, although they could be made available for any other unit.
Dan Blouin, a Department of National Defence spokesman, said the requirement is for an enduring, operational level, multi-sensor manned airborne ISR capability that would be used to complement existing Canadian Armed Forces intelligence and reconnaissance platforms such as the CP-140 Aurora.

The new aircraft could be deployed on short notice and, unlike the Aurora, which is largely a maritime surveillance plane, the fleet would be designed to support ground operations.
“It is being examined as a dedicated ISR platform capable of direct support to ground troops, however, it shall also be capable of support for all (Canadian Armed Forces) operations,” Blouin said.

“This Manned Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (MAISR) program will permit the (Canadian Armed Forces) to expand its ISR capabilities to meet the emerging and additional demands of the ever-changing battle space.”

At this time, there are no firm milestones publicly available for the program, Blouin added.
CANSOFCOM initially met with industry representatives in August 2013 to discuss in general terms what it wanted in an aircraft. But in August of this year, CANSOFCOM changed its procurement process, indicating it would now proceed with the purchase of airframes through a foreign military sale with the U.S. government.

Canadian military sources say the special forces command is interested in acquiring MC-12W Liberty surveillance aircraft. The MC-12 program began in 2008 as a way to quickly outfit Beechcraft King Air 350 turboprop aircraft with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment for the Iraq war. The planes also operated in Afghanistan in support of special forces and conventional troops.

Boeing had been promoting its Reconfigurable Airborne Multi-Intelligence System (RAMIS) to the Canadian Armed Forces for the project. RAMIS can provide an array of payloads, including a ground moving target indicator (GMTI) as well as communications intercept capabilities. The aircraft being marketed by Boeing has four payload bays for maximum flexibility and optimum sensor mix.

In addition, the aircraft has plug-and-play software and sensors that can be quickly added or removed. “You can fly one sortie in the morning and fly another module in the afternoon,” said Mike Ferguson, the Boeing official in charge of business development for RAMIS.
Ferguson also said RAMIS is not “platform-centric,” but the King Air aircraft is the most popular. In addition, Ferguson said the change in Canada’s procurement plan — moving from the purchase of aircraft from a company to the purchase of aircraft through a foreign military sale (FMS) — doesn’t affect Boeing’s interest in the program.

“If it’s modifying existing aircraft, we’re ready to do that and we have programs do that,” Ferguson said. “Or if it is buying new aircraft from the United States through an FMS case, we’re ready to support them on that ... We’re ready to support them, no matter what their decision is.”
Boeing brought the RAMIS production prototype aircraft to Ottawa in August for a demonstration for Royal Canadian Air Force officers. Chief of the Air Staff LGen Yvan Blondin was also on hand for the demonstration.

The Canadian Armed Forces plans to base the special forces surveillance aircraft in Ontario, either at an RCAF location or an international airport (CFB Trenton and Ottawa’s airport come to mind).

Ferguson said no details have been provided on when the project would proceed. “One of the biggest issues is the Canadian budgeting process,” he explained. “They really didn’t give an indication on when they’ll be moving forward on the program.”

Mike Greenley, vice president for CAE Canada Military, said if CANSOFCOM does acquire the aircraft in a direct purchase from the U.S. government, there could be work for Canadian firms in maintaining the planes. “We would have the capability to support an ISR platform in Canada,” he noted.

Command and Control

CANSOFCOM also hopes to improve its command and control capabilities. A new project dubbed the Special Operations Task Forces Command and Control Communication Information System would involve the purchase of new hardware, software as well as contractor support. Cost is estimated to be between $50 million and $99 million. Options analysis is currently being conducted and a request for proposals will be issued in 2015. A contract will be awarded that same year, but the deliverables won’t all be in place until 2020.

Hawken said the new system “must provide operators and higher echelon staff with the means to share mission-critical information anywhere in the world. It must accommodate the rapid integration of emerging technologies and products, some of which are not within the scope of conventional forces.”

Because of security reasons, he declined to provide specifics about the equipment being sought by the command.

New CBRNE equipment

CANSOFCOM’s Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit (CJIRU) will receive new equipment through what is being called the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) Enhancement Project.

The project will procure systems currently in use by CJIRU as well invest in opportunities that will provide improvements for those systems. Defence Research and Development Canada, the Directorate of CBRN Defence and Operational Support and other DND organizations will be involved.

Product improvements provided by industry and universities will also be considered. The total price tag for the new purchases is estimated to be between $50 million to $99 million. Requests for proposals are expected in 2016. However, this hasn’t stopped CANSOFCOM from already upgrading such equipment.

On September 8, U.S.-based iRobot Corp. announced it had received contracts totalling $9.6 million from DND. One contract is for 20 iRobot 510 PackBot CBRN Recce Systems, including training and future product life cycle support, said Tom Phelps, director of Robotic Products – North America for iRobot’s defence and security business unit. All systems under the contract are expected to be delivered by April 2015.

The iRobot 510 PackBot CBRN Recce System is a modular expansion to the company’s 510 PackBot multi-mission robot platform; it is designed to meet specific requirements from Canada’s Department of National Defence, the company noted.

It includes a CBRN suite that integrates five primary sensors to detect, alert and report on chemical warfare agents, toxic industrial chemicals, volatile gases, explosives and radiation. It has enhanced mobility through the addition of rear flippers to allow it to climb up stairs.

DND spokesman Dan LeBouthillier said the CBRN sensors currently in service in the Canadian military do not incorporate the inherent remote operation, mobility and communication capabilities that would allow close reconnaissance tasks in confined spaces to be carried out safely. The remote reconnaissance capability provided by the iRobot systems would reduce the operator’s risk of exposure since the analysis of potentially harmful CBRN agents can be performed at a safe distance, he added.

Phelps said the firm is delivering the robots to DND but doesn’t know what specific unit they will be used by. Military sources, however, say the robots are destined for CANSOFCOM.

Amelia Earheart: The famed aviator's Canadian connection

By Rick Leswick

It is believed that the final words Amelia Earhart transmitted by radio were picked up on the powerful 20-tube set owned by Toronto resident Mrs. Ernest Crabbe. The following words crackled on July 15, 1937, the day the world-famous aviator likely crashed into the Pacific Ocean with her navigator Fred Noonan.

“Are you alright? ... Hold this line ... Do you think they got our SOS?”
Mrs. Crabbe, along with several other local persons, reported hearing the transmission for help and later reported the distress call to The Toronto Star.

The Toronto connection with Amelia Earhart, born in Atchison, Kansas on July 24, 1897, began in December 1917 when she travelled to the Canadian city by train to visit her younger sister Muriel, who was in Toronto to study teaching at Saint Margaret’s College. At that time, Amelia had been enrolled in school, preparing to enter college as a pre-med student, and had little intention of staying in Canada beyond the Christmas holidays.

After the holidays she returned to Ogontz School in Philadelphia, but only remained a few weeks. Against her parents’ wishes she returned to Toronto where she volunteered as a nurse’s assistant at the Spadina Military Convalescent Hospital, located in Knox College on the campus of the University of Toronto.

Although the first doughboys of the U.S. Army had slowly begun to take their places amid the horror of the Great War’s Western Front, Amelia had little appreciation for what was going on in Europe.

That was soon to change as she spent most of 1918 treating returning Canadian soldiers who had suffered both physically and emotionally during their exposure to armed conflict.
She wrote: “There, for the first time I realized what the World War meant. Instead of new uniforms and brass bands, I saw only the results of four years’ desperate struggle: men without arms and legs, men who were paralyzed and men who were blind. One day I saw four one-legged men at once, walking as best they could down the street together.”

In the States, Amelia had tried to join the American Red Cross in some formal capacity, but she failed to do so. When she came to Canada she became a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD). The VAD supplied field nursing services mainly in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries, including Canada. She remained with the organization until the cessation of hostilities in November 1918.

When war broke out in 1914, the British Red Cross dissuaded women from becoming nurses in overseas hospitals. The VAD, which had been formed in 1909 in anticipation of future hostilities, accepted volunteers — mostly middle- and upper-class women who had little experience with hardship or the routine of hospital discipline.

Members of the VAD were not allowed to serve at the front lines. Nonetheless, the semi-trained nurses drove ambulances, worked as cooks and maids, provided some medical assistance, and toiled under conditions that were physically and emotionally taxing.

Amelia’s duties were varied, ranging from “scrubbing floors to playing tennis with convalescing patients.” She also worked in the dispensary after admitting to superiors, “I knew a little chemistry.” The dedicated 21-year-old also worked hard to improve the general diet of the patients.

At the hospital, Amelia worked long hours, seven days a week. When she took an occasional Sunday off — her free day coincided with her sister’s — the two young women enjoyed horseback riding. Both Amelia and Muriel were skilled equestrians. Ever seeking challenges, Amelia made a pet of a “man-eating bronco” thoroughbred named Dynamite.
As the summer receded, on one of her Sundays off she visited former patients at a local airfield. There were two aerodromes in Toronto, which at the time was regarded as the unofficial capital of the Royal Flying Corps.

Muriel recounted the experience in her 1987 book, Amelia, My Courageous Sister: “At (Armour Heights airfield, near what is now Highway 401 and Avenue Rd), we admired the planes, especially as they came in for landing. Amelia wanted to fly with our friend, Captain Spaulding, but regulations against civilian passengers were strict, so we had to be content to be spectators.”
Amelia also had an experience during a local air show. She and a friend were watching the aerobatics when one of the young stunt pilots dove straight for the two women. When she relayed the story years later she told an interviewer, “I am sure the pilot said to himself, ‘Watch me make them scamper.’” But she had firmly held her ground and recalled, “I did not understand it at the time, but I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by.”

When the war ended on November 11, 1918, Amelia observed the overwhelming displays of celebration with a mixture of elation and deep sadness. By this time, having tended to hundreds of gravely wounded soldiers who had returned from France to Toronto, Amelia was a staunch pacifist. She was disturbed by the joyful exuberance of the Toronto citizenry that conducted themselves without what she felt was due consideration for the victims of war. But, she also understood that pent-up emotions, created by more than four years of global war, needed to be released. She was with the huge crowds in the downtown streets of Toronto on Armistice Day and remembered, “What a day ... supposedly dignified citizens snake-danced and knocked each other’s hats off!”

A short time after the conclusion of the war, Amelia returned to live with her parents, who were now living in California. In 1920 she flew for the first time because “the interest aroused in me in Toronto led me to all the air circuses in town.”

Shortly after her first airborne adventure she obtained her pilot’s licence and purchased a small plane of her own. It had been her intention to become a professional pilot, but she instead headed in another direction.

In 1928 she was a social worker in Boston and was offered the chance to join two men on a transatlantic flight. This was an extremely dangerous trip, but she eagerly accepted the invitation. Completing the flight made her the first woman to fly across the ocean and, as a result, she attracted instant public attention.

Four years later, in May 1932, she completed her first solo flight from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland to Londonderry, Northern Ireland. It was a nerve-wracking 20-hour, 40-minute flight during which Amelia encountered the worst of weather conditions, including rain and fog.
People were ecstatic over her accomplishment that occurred only five years after Charles Lindbergh’s historic feat and the press assigned her the moniker of “Lady Lindy.”

Fifteen years after Amelia first came to Toronto to visit her sister, she was yet again in the city. Just before Christmas she spoke to an assembly at the University Women’s Club in celebration of her flight across the Atlantic. In 1932, the downtown Toronto Simpson’s department store was quickly selling Solo-Flite hats, in honour of Amelia’s accomplishment. The stylish head covers retailed for $10.95 — a fair sum of money in the early days of the Great Depression.

While in the city, she said, “I think I can attribute my aviation career to what I experienced here in Toronto. Even though I worked from 7 o’clock in the morning until 7 o’clock at night, I found the time to visit — well, they were hardly airports, they were flying fields ... I had a chance to see the fliers.”

At the bastion of male influence, The Canadian Club, she was interrogated by the irascible Gordon Sinclair, a seasoned world traveller and author of then recently released book, Footloose in India. Sinclair was no friend to feminists and he lit into Amelia with a question that displayed his pugnacious style.

He wanted to know why Canada had dozens of laws requiring men to support their wives, “but not one lonesome little law to protect men from women.”

Although the question was totally irrelevant to the nature of the aviator’s luncheon address, promoting the still-new concept of commercial aviation, Amelia answered without hesitation. She fired back, stating that the laws were “archaic and antique,” adding, “Modern women don’t want them.”

Sinclair later admitted that he was “a bit startled” when Amelia continued.
She said that she was weary of “this first-woman business. Its time biology and sex were squeezed out of accomplishment.”

Gordon Sinclair’s jaw dropped when Amelia proudly exclaimed, “I’m no torch-bearer for women’s rights.” She explained simply, “I flew because I wanted to try it.”

Looking at Sinclair, she said: “I’m not crusading about the country for greater feminine freedom because that’s coming without crusading.”

Amelia had triumphed over the male writer and Sinclair struggled. “You’re saying then that women are, or should be, equal to men in aviation.”

“No, not in aviation,” she answered. “In everything.”

The Toronto Star newspaper that had hired Gordon Sinclair to interview Amelia Earhart later reported that she was “a delightful personage of entertaining wit.”

On July 15, 1937, almost five years after Amelia spoke at The Canadian Club, she disappeared. It is believed Amelia likely crashed into the Pacific Ocean, although other theories have circulated since then, including her having been captured and executed by the Japanese as a spy.

A number of privately funded expeditions to the South Pacific have also been engaged, but it was not until the summer of 2007, when Ric Gillespie of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) went to Nikumaroro Island and discovered what is believed to be leather from a woman’s shoe and pieces of dried makeup. Could these scant pieces of evidence support the theory that Amelia died on the deserted western Pacific Ocean island?

What is known is that it was not until April 17, 1964 that a woman pilot, Jerrie Mock, successfully flew around the world. Mock had been inspired by Amelia Earhart, whose love of flying had its genesis in Toronto.

At the 1932 Canadian Club luncheon, Amelia spoke of the men who flew the early airplanes she had watched years earlier in Toronto. “Perhaps there is some of the romance,” she said, “because they were very young and very handsome, taking off in the airplanes and I remember the sting of the snow hitting my face as I stood behind the planes and the propellers whirled and blew it back on the spectators.”

She finished by saying, “I think the aviation bug entered my system at that time and probably never left, because I went back to the States and took my first ride in 1920.”