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As 2023 dawns, Canada’s top soldier confronts a long list of worst-case scenarios

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It might be a stretch to describe Gen. Wayne Eyre as a modern Cassandra.

Still, over the latter half of 2022, Canada’s top military commander delivered — in public and before House of Commons committees — increasingly stark warnings about the future geopolitical landscape, where the war between Russia and Ukraine could go and the intentions of other disruptive international actors, such as China.

Whether he’s been disbelieved or dismissed — like the Trojan priestess of Greek mythology — has depended largely on his audience.

Last October, he told a Commons committee that the West was already “at war with China and Russia” and that the two global powers were out to remake their world in their own political image.

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During a separate appearance before a different panel of MPs, he warned that Canada’s hold on its Arctic archipelago is “tenuous” in the face of great power competition.

There’s just not enough Canadian Forces to be able to do everything– Gen. Wayne Eyre

It’s almost unprecedented to hear a Canadian chief of the defence staff speak publicly in such uncompromising terms.

“This has been a year like no other in my career,” Eyre, who has spent 34 years in uniform in deployments all over the world, told CBC News in a year-end interview.

“And I think history will view this year as a turning point in the global order.”

In an interesting departure from his previous remarks, Eyre delivered a decidedly more mainstreet argument for why the skeptical or uninterested should still care about the unravelling of the geopolitical consensus that has held the world together since the end of the Cold War.

“We need to be concerned because our national prosperity is based on the stability in the existing order,” Eyre said. “And if we can’t defer or deter and defend that, or if we can’t work with our friends, partners and allies to create stability in that order, we’re going to suffer.”

The supply chain disruptions and soaring energy and food prices — driven by rampant inflation triggered by the onset of major hostilities between Ukraine and Russia last winter — could be just a taste of what lies ahead, Eyre suggested.

A woman picks up debris inside a building, surrounded by pieces of concrete and a damaged window.
A woman who identified herself as Svetlana removes debris from a ward of a hospital hit by Russian shelling in Donetsk. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

As Ukraine settles in for a long, brutal winter war, the country’s allies — including Canada — have spent the last few weeks trying to catch their breath and take stock of how the world changed — perhaps irreversibly — in 2022.

In early December, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned during an interview with Norwegian broadcaster NRK that there was a “real possibility” of the war in Ukraine escalating into a full-blown conflict between the western military alliance and Russia.

Canada would be called on to join its allies in such a case.

For years, the Canadian public has been bombarded with conflicting (and occasionally toxic) messages — some of them political — about the state of the military, its equipment and its leadership.

Even members of Parliament seem confused about the roles the Canadian Armed Forces is capable of playing. For proof, look no further than the Commons committee debate last fall about how involved the military should be in domestic emergencies.

Defence Minister Anita Anand, right, walks with Gen. Wayne Eyre, chief of defence staff, as they attend an announcement in Halifax on Friday, Nov.18, 2022. Halifax has been selected to be the host of NATO's North American regional office for defence innovation.
Defence Minister Anita Anand, right, walks with Gen. Wayne Eyre, chief of defence staff, as they attend an announcement in Halifax on Friday, Nov.18, 2022. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Successive governments have piled more responsibilities on the military, forcing it into unconventional roles — such as backstopping pandemic-ravaged nursing homes in two provinces — at a time when recruitment numbers have been falling like a stone.

The latest item to be added to the military’s to-do list will figure more prominently in the coming year. It’s the Liberal government’s plan to be more involved militarily in the Indo-Pacific region by deploying an additional frigate and undertaking security force training in countries like Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

“I am concerned about our capacity writ large, given the significant number of demands around the world. And there’s just not enough Canadian Forces to be able to do everything,” Eyre said.

Canada has been nominally engaged in the region already, with sail-pasts through the contested Taiwan Strait and missions to enforce sanctions against North Korea.

‘It’s a zero-sum game’

The new government strategy formalizes and increases that involvement — sending a signal to China — at a time when the Canadian military is increasing its commitment to reassurance missions in Eastern Europe meant to keep Russia at bay. At last summer’s NATO leaders summit, Canada agreed to put more resources into the battlegroup it leads in Latvia to make it a brigade-sized force.

Meeting all of those commitments will make the balancing act Eyre and other senior leaders face even more precarious. It will mean, he said, taking great care in deciding which kinds of ships and aircraft to send on missions. For example, he said, frigate deployments could be swapped out for minesweepers in some cases.

Eyre calls it a “targeted” approach. But doesn’t that amount to robbing Peter to pay Paul?

“Well, it’s a zero-sum game, and we have to find a way of paying both Peter and Paul, but perhaps not as much,” he said.

Gen. Wayne Eyre sits down with CBC News for a year-end interview on Dec. 7, 2022.
Gen. Wayne Eyre sits down with CBC News for a year-end interview on Dec. 7, 2022. He said the military’s long list of responsibilities means it must be smart about how it deploys its resources. (CBC News)

Eyre said there’s no silver bullet solution to this dilemma. He noted how in 2022 he ordered all non-essential activity to cease to allow the military to concentrate on its core responsibilities and said that, in certain circumstances, “we’re saying ‘no’ … in terms of taking on new tasks.”

That might be easier said than done, given the global instability Eyre has warned about.

The war in Ukraine has forced the Canadian military to part with some essential equipment, such as ammunition, howitzers and anti-tank weapons. It also put the spotlight on critical deficiencies, such as Canada’s lack of ground-based anti-aircraft systems and weapons to counter drones.

Ukrainian service members fire a shell from a M777 Howitzer in Kharkiv Region, Ukraine on July 21, 2022. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

There are urgent procurement efforts underway to replace donated gear and cover those critical gaps, Eyre said.

Those procurements involve acquiring air defences, counter-drone technology, better electronic warfare equipment (jammers) and new anti-tank weapons, such as the U.S.-manufactured Javelins which have proven decisive for Ukrainians on the battlefield.

The word “urgent” is a relative term in defence contracting in Canada. Eyre said the new equipment cannot arrive fast enough.

“I wish we had it yesterday,” he said.

One piece of donated equipment is proving difficult to replace. Earlier this year, Canada gave Ukraine four of its three dozen M-777 towed artillery pieces — weapons the manufacturer no longer makes. British defence contractor BAE Systems said it’s considering whether to restart the production line.

‘What did we do in 1939?’

Eyre said he has challenged planners at the Department of National Defence to think about worst-case scenarios and to draw from the experiences of the past.

“I often challenged the team to look at history. What did we do in 1939?” he said, referring to the beginning of the Second World War.

“We had to grow a Canadian military from several thousand to, I think, at the end of the day, we had six years later 600,000. How did we do that? How were we able to arm them? What risks were involved?”

When asked whether Canada was ready to fight along its allies if the worst happens in 2023, Eyre hedged and qualified his response. It depends, he said, on “who’s your enemy and who are your friends” and what kind of technology is involved.

Some of those worst-case scenarios keep him up at night.

“I have grave concerns, not only about the capabilities we have [but] the ability to sustain them in terms of ammunition, in terms of spare parts and in terms of people,” he said.

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Federal government asking RCMP to ban use of sponge rounds, CS gas for crowd control

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OTTAWA — The federal government says it wants the RCMP to ban the use of two crowd-control tools that forces across the country say they have in their arsenals: sponge rounds and CS gas.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino’s office confirmed that it wants the measures outlawed, even as the RCMP declines to say whether or not it will comply with that instruction.

The decision to restrict even the use of “less lethal” alternatives to crowd-control tools such as rubber bullets and stronger forms of tear gas has some critics questioning whether the federal Liberals are playing politics with policing.

“Removing less lethal options from our members’ available options raises real concerns for public and police officer safety,” National Police Union president Brian Sauvé said in a statement.

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The confirmation that the federal Liberals want the tools banned comes after The Canadian Press raised questions about a mandate letter Mendicino gave to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki last year.

The letter directed the force to stop using three use-of-force methods: the “carotid control” neck hold, rubber bullets and tear gas.

The RCMP made headlines recently when it confirmed that it still allows officers to use the controversial neck hold despite those instructions and the fact that other police forces have stopped using it.

The force does not use rubber bullets or the more-dangerous chemical compounds referred to as tear gas, which cause irritation to a person’s eyes and mucous membranes.

But the minister’s office is now clarifying that it wants similar tools banned, too.

Mendicino’s office said in a statement that it used the terms “rubber bullets” and “tear gas” in the mandate letter “as they are general language understood by most Canadians.”

It confirmed that it considers the milder CS gas and extended-range impact weapons, which fire foam rounds, to be the operational terms for such tools — meaning that it does want the RCMP to stop using them.

That came as news to Sauvé and other experts, who say that the decision is a departure from existing policy, since police forces across the country and around the world have such crowd-control methods in their arsenals.

The RCMP said in a statement that it is “working with partners, stakeholders and bargaining agents” to review the mandate letter — and gave no indication that it intends to follow Mendicino’s orders.

“The RCMP continues to report publicly on our use of police intervention options, including the carotid control technique and the 40 millimetre extended range impact weapon that fires sponge-tipped rounds, not rubber bullets, as well as the use of specialty munitions,” it said.

It added that its extended range weapons, in use since 2017, “provide an officer with more time and distance from an individual being responded to in order to better enable de-escalation and communication, when tactically feasible.”

Public disclosures show that the RCMP used CS gas 102 times in 2021, and it used extended-range impact weapons 86 times.

The public order units of major municipal police forces, including in Vancouver and Toronto, confirmed to The Canadian Press that they also have access to the tools.

In an interview, Western University criminologist Michael Arntfield argued that CS gas is “entirely different” than the compounds typically referred to as tear gas, and sponge rounds are different than rubber bullets.

He said tear and rubber bullets are “very inflammatory terms,” bringing up images of coups d’état, or of police attacking people who had been marching for Black civil rights outside Selma, Ala., in 1965.

“I’m not sure why those terms would be used if the government was serious about looking at less lethal alternatives.”

Arntfield said he is “genuinely confounded” about why Mendicino would “tack on” a request for the RCMP to stop using police tools that are commonplace across Canada in asking them to stop using the neck hold.

“It looks like political theatre and has absolutely nothing to do with law enforcement operations.”

On Parliament Hill this week, Mendicino said broadly that there is a need to reform law enforcement institutions.

“We are closely consulting and collaborating with law enforcement and experts in the area to take an evidence-based approach so that we can keep our community safe, while at the same time making sure that police have the tools they need when it comes to de-escalating,” Mendicino said.

But he would not answer questions about why the RCMP seems to be defying his instructions, walking away from reporters when the question was posed.

El Jones, an activist who helped lead a study on defunding police forces, says police are “an unaccountable force in Canada.”

The fact that the RCMP is not following political direction shows that impunity, she argued. “I think the police are very much signalling to us, no one can tell us what to do.”

The issue of which tools are and aren’t available to police is receiving heightened attention following the killing of Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by police in Memphis, Tenn., in early January.

The “carotid control” neck hold, which the RCMP reported it used 14 times in 2021, had been widely condemned after George Floyd was killed when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes.

Jones said police are not transparent enough about their policies or how much training they provide for officers when it comes to the use of force.

“We don’t have good use-of-force study in Canada,” she said. “The picture of use of force in Canada, period, by the police, is just not very clear.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2023.

 

David Fraser, The Canadian Press

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Inuit, environmental groups call for stronger measures to reduce underwater noise

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Hunters from Pond Inlet, Nvt. — known as Mittimatalik in Inuktitut — have said they’re seeing fewer narwhal in areas where they were once abundant, making it harder to feed their families, and that the whales’ behaviour is changing.

Lisa Koperqualuk, vice chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, says that’s because of noise from ships.

“It impacts our culture when marine animals are disturbed and are not in their usual places,” she said, adding hunters have to travel further to find narwhal.

Research has found narwhal are sensitive to noise. Aerial surveys indicate their numbers are declining in Eclipse Sound on the northeastern end of Baffin Island during the summer.

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A 2020 report by the Fisheries Department suggests that could be due to increasing ship traffic from mining, cruises, ice breaking and development, as well as other factors such as the presence of killer whales or natural movement in the region.

Newly revised international guidelines on reducing underwater noise from ships recognize the unique effects on Inuit, but environmental and Inuit organizations say stronger measures are needed.

The International Maritime Organization’s subcommittee on ship design and construction met in London last week, where members agreed on revisions to the 2014 guidelines. They include updated technical knowledge and sample templates for underwater noise management plans.

The draft updated guidelines also reference Indigenous knowledge and Inuit Nunaat, or Inuit homeland in the United States, Canada, Greenland and Russia. There, it states effects from underwater noise on marine life could be greater due to ice breaking, the presence of noise-sensitive species and Indigenous hunting rights.

“That is something ICC is really encouraged about because really we are the first Indigenous organization to have a voice at the IMO,” Koperqualuk said.

The council, which represents about 180,000 Inuit worldwide, wanted a separate section included in the guidelines focusing on challenges particular to the Arctic and Inuit Nunaat. For instance, it said noise travels further in cold water and expressed concern about the consequences for marine species Inuit rely on for food, culture and livelihoods.

Koperqualuk said there was interest in specific recommendations for ships operating in these waters, such as using Indigenous knowledge in voyage planning, but the north-specific section was ultimately not included in the guidelines because it’s not universally applicable.

Koperqualuk also noted the guidelines are voluntary and there has been little uptake by ship owners.

Andrew Dumbrille with the Clean Arctic Alliance, made up of 20 non-profit organizations, agreed there is a need for mandatory measures.

He pointed to a 2019 study on implementation of the existing guidelines overseen by World Wildlife Fund Canada, the Chamber of Shipping America, World Maritime University and Transport Canada. Several organizations reported they were a low priority as they are not mandatory as well as barriers such as the lack of baseline measurements for underwater noise or reduction targets.

“These new guidelines are more detailed and they have the latest science and latest perspective on not only underwater noise impacts but technology fixes and management solutions,” Dumbrille said.

“Unfortunately these guidelines are still voluntary and so that’s problematic on a number of levels.”

The revised guidelines are to be submitted to the Marine Environmental Protection Commission in July for approval.

A working group tasked with reviewing the guidelines ran out of time last week to finalize a list of suggested next steps, areas needing further research and assessment, and suggestions to increase awareness and uptake of the guidelines. Dumbrille said a correspondence group will continue that work.

“The pathway to regulatory measures is slow,” he said. “Some people are saying it’s not fast enough to respond to the threat and the urgency and the need around addressing underwater noise because our oceans are getting louder and that’s especially true for the Arctic.”

The Arctic has some of the lowest underwater sound levels on Earth, but research suggests that could change as new shipping routes open due to sea ice loss.

A study published in the scientific journal Environmental Pollution in October predicts underwater noise emissions from ships could double every 11 and a half years on average without incentives or regulatory steps. A 2021 report by the Arctic Council found noise pollution from ships had doubled in some areas of the Arctic between 2013 and 2019.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada says underwater noise has been linked to a wide range of effects on marine species that rely on sound, including behavioural changes, habitat loss, increased stress levels and permanent injury or death.

Transport Canada saidit’s pleased with the revised international guidelines, but acknowledged more work is needed.

In June 2021, Transport Canada announced the Quiet Vessel Initiative with $26 million in funding over five years to test the most promising technologies, vessel designs, retrofits and operational practices to make ships quieter. Ottawa has also been developing an Ocean Noise Strategy which, it expects to launch later this year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2023.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

 

Emily Blake, The Canadian Press

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Extreme cold temperatures across Quebec, East Coast expected to linger until Sunday

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MONTREAL — Residents from Quebec to Newfoundland and Labrador are waking up this morning to more extreme cold weather.

Emergency officials warned people to seek shelter and monitor for frostbite if they had to be outside overnight, as the temperature across much of Eastern Canada was expected to feel like -40 C to -50 C with the wind chill.

Temperatures in Quebec City were forecast to fall to -30 C overnight — with a wind chill index of -45 — and the arctic weather was expected to last until Sunday.

Extreme cold warnings remain in effect across the East Coast, with temperatures in the Halifax area expected to feel like -39 C through the morning.

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Government and private agencies scrambled on Friday to provide shelter for vulnerable people in scores of cities and towns in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, as conditions risked giving exposed skin frostbite in minutes.

The City of Montreal opened two temporary emergency warming centres, each of which can accommodate up to 50 people between 8 p.m. and 9 a.m. The centres are to close on Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2023.

 

The Canadian Press

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