Canada found itself under the spotlight on Wednesday as the head of the NATO military alliance said he expects Canada to fulfil its commitment to other members and increase its defence spending to meet the needs of an increasingly dangerous world.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg made the comments at a news conference on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Spain after the first of several meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other leaders of the 30-member transatlantic alliance.
NATO leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have gathered in Madrid for the landmark summit to discuss how they will respond to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Among the numerous decisions that Stoltenberg said had been taken by leaders was a recommitment for all members to spend at least two per cent of the national gross domestic product on defence, a target first agreed to in 2014.
“Two per cent is increasingly seen as the floor, not as the ceiling,” he said.
Yet while the vast majority of allies already meet the threshold or have laid out specific plans to reach it by 2024, Stoltenberg said a handful have made “concrete commitments” without a specific timetable.
Canada is almost certainly in the last group as the Liberal government has refused to publicly commit to the two per cent target, let alone lay out a schedule for meeting it.
In fact, a report released by Stoltenberg on Monday projected Canadian defence spending will actually fall as a share of GDP to 1.27 per cent this year. That compares to 1.32 per cent last year and 1.42 per cent in 2020.
The parliamentary budget office has estimated it would cost $75 billion over five years to reach the NATO target.
Asked about Canadian defence spending, Stoltenberg told reporters that he understands the desire to spend taxpayer dollars on health care, education and infrastructure. But he said members need to invest in defence as the world grows more dangerous.
“I expect all allies to meet the guidelines that we have set,” he said. “So of course, this is a message to all allies, including Canada.”
Stoltenberg nevertheless praised Canada for leading a 2,000-soldier battlegroup in Latvia, one of eight that alliance leaders agreed to strengthen in eastern Europe in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
He also said leaders had formally agreed to double the size of those battlegroups by adding more troops and capabilities, while also increasing the number of soldiers on high-readiness from 40,000 to 300,000.
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said, when pressed by reporters on defence spending, that Canadians can be proud of the country’s work within NATO and in the Ukrainian conflict in general.
Canada has played a “leadership role” in training more than 30,000 Ukrainian troops through its mission Operation Unifier and providing heavy weapons to the country, she said.
“We are leaving a very important presence, military presence, in Latvia,” she added.
Joly emphasized the role of diplomacy in responding to Russia’s aggression. She announced Canada will open embassies and appoint ambassadors in Estonia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Armenia, and reinforce its diplomatic presence in Latvia.
Canada must push back against Russian influence, including its soft power, disinformation campaigns and brute force, she said.
“We believe that diplomacy remains one of the most effective ways to support security and stability and also to respond to challenges in a world experiencing a profound geopolitical shift,” Joly said.
The question for Canada aside from whether it will increase its defence spending is whether it will contribute additional troops to the cause, including in Latvia.
“It sure seems like the alliance is looking to make some concrete announcements about increased actual capabilities, on higher readiness for the alliance, and I’m interested to see whether or not we have any more gas left in that particular tank,” said David Perry, defence and foreign policy analyst for the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
Trudeau said that’s what he’ll be speaking about with other leaders.
NATO has steadily stepped up its presence since the first inklings of a potential invasion in January, effectively flexing its muscle to deter Russia from picking a fight with an allied nation.
If Russia were to cross into NATO territory it would trigger an all-out international war between dozens of countries, as an attack on one allied nation is considered an attack on all 30.
Russian President Vladimir Putin offered Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO as one of the justifications for the invasion.
Stoltenberg said leaders had approved a new strategic concept that will guide the defence of the alliance for the next decade, which identifies Russia as a serious threat to NATO.
The paper adds members “cannot discount the possibility of an attack against allies’ sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
NATO leaders also extended a formal invitation for Finland and Sweden to join the alliance, and promised a new package of assistance for Ukraine, including secure communications, body armour, anti-drone weapons.
Russia has launched fresh attacks on civilians in the country — most recently with a missile strike on a shopping mall in Kremenchuk in central Ukraine Monday that killed at least 18 people.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.
— With files from Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa
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A year after the fall of Kabul, Canadian veterans urge Ottawa not to abandon Afghans trying to flee – CBC News
It’s been one year since Kabul fell to the Taliban after American and allied troops — including Canadians — left the country.
Video footage showed Afghans streaming onto the tarmac at the Kabul airport, desperate to escape, as a U.S. air force plane took off. Some fell to their death trying to hold on.
“We watched that terrible situation unfold … we saw that tremendous catastrophe that happened in Kabul,” said Brian Macdonald.
A Canadian veteran who served in Afghanistan, Macdonald leads the non-profit Aman Lara, which is Pashto for “Sheltered Path.” The collective of Canadian veterans and former interpreters has been working over the last year to bring refugees to safety in Canada.
“When we were unable to get them out a year ago, it was devastating. But since then we’ve come together, we’ve doubled down and been able to get 3,000 people out,” he said.
But it’s been a slow and dangerous process when those refugees need to go through the Taliban to get a passport.
“These people that have helped Canada now have to stand up and go to an office that’s controlled by the Taliban and give their name and address and the dates of birth of their children,” Macdonald said.
“It’s a very dangerous thing to do.”
There was hope this June, when Pakistan agreed to temporarily allow Afghan refugees approved to come to Canada across its border, without a passport or visa.
But Macdonald says they’ve hit roadblocks bringing those refugees to Canada.
“We were hoping it would be thousands, and it ended up being dozens,” he said.
“We’re dealing with the Afghan-Pakistani border, and it’s a very wild place. And so messages aren’t always clearly communicated, but we believe the window may still be open.”
Ottawa promises to speed up application process
A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said Canada has added more employees on the ground to process applications as quickly as possible, including in Pakistan.
The department did not say how many undocumented Afghans have successfully made it to Canada through the arrangement with Pakistan.
Canada initially said it would bring 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada — focusing on Afghans who were employed by the Canadian government and military. The federal government says that, to date, it has welcomed 17,300, with more still to arrive “in the coming weeks and months.”
“We remain steadfast in our collective resolve to bring vulnerable Afghans to safety in Canada as quickly as possible,” says a joint statement released Monday by Fraser, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan.
The statement does not indicate when Ottawa expects to reach its target of resettling 40,000 Afghans.
In the statement, the ministers lamented what they called the “steady deterioration” of human and democratic rights in Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power last year, citing the reintroduction of severe restrictions on the ability of women and girls to go to school and to move freely within the country.
‘We can hold our heads high,’ says deputy PM about evacuation
But the federal government has been criticized for not doing more to help Afghans who assisted Canada in the NATO-led effort and are now at risk of being killed by the Taliban for their ties to Western nations.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said “we need to not think in the past tense” when asked if Canada could have done more a year ago.
“We can hold our heads up high when we think about our response compared to that of our allies. There is a lot more work to do,” Freeland said in Toronto on Thursday.
“We need to keep on working to bring more people from Afghanistan to Canada, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
Last month, Canada stopped accepting new applications to its special immigration program, a move that advocates say amounts to the abandoning of Afghans desperate to come to this country.
Macdonald hopes the federal government reconsiders its approach and commits to welcoming every Afghan who helped the government into Canada.
“A year ago, we were panicking to get as many people out as possible,” Macdonald said.
“We all thought — as veterans and other interpreters — that that window had closed, that the people we didn’t get out were stuck in Afghanistan.
“But what we’ve learned over the last year is we can still move them out. It’s at a snail’s pace. It’s not as many people as we’d like. But we are still grinding away every day, moving people out of Afghanistan. And we’re just going to keep doing that until we get as many people out as we possibly can.”
Maritime veterans working to bring Afghans to Canada – CTV News Atlantic
John Monaghan’s connection to Afghanistan has withstood the 13 years since his tour there.
The Nova Scotia man and his family keep in constant contact — daily — with a man he met there, who worked with the Canadian military. A man he refers to as “Mr. Jones,” to keep his identity hidden from the Taliban.
The Monaghan’s have been lobbying and fundraising to bring Mr. Jones, his wife, his four older siblings and their large families to Nova Scotia.
But he says, at this point, one year after the Taliban takeover of Kabul, they’re still in limbo.
“You can tell that he’s worried, he’s definitely worried about everything that’s going on,” Monaghan said. “It’s just really frustrating. They need to move these people out of danger and here to Canada, to safety.”
Aman Lara — Pashto for “Sheltered Path” — is an organization that was born after the takeover a year ago, to try and bring as many Afghan interpreters to Canada as possible.
Its executive director is New Brunswicker Brian Macdonald, who also served in Afghanistan. Macdonald says it’s become an urgent passion project for many veterans across the country.
“A year ago, we saw those terrible scenes of people getting crushed trying to leave Kabul. At that time, we thought the window had closed, we weren’t going to be able to get any more people out. But in that year, we’ve doubled down, and we’ve now got 3,000 people out of Afghanistan,” he said.
He says they’ve been working with teams in many different locations, but the bureaucracy in several countries — including Canada — is high.
Their focus is on securing the safety of another 3,000 people, and believe the work will take years to complete.
“There’s some people on our team who still haven’t gotten their families out. We work with these interpreters very closely, they’re here in Canada but their families are still stuck in Afghanistan. So there’s a lot left to do for sure,” he said.
Macdonald believes there are about 8,000 people in Afghanistan right now, who’ve been approved to travel to Canada. But there are thousands more who are eligible, but have yet to be accepted.
“For the Government of Canada, we want them to extend the special immigration measures program, and that will allow us to get everyone that served Canada out of Afghanistan,” he said. “So we don’t think there should be a cap on that in terms of numbers, and we don’t think there should be a timeline on that. Let’s take as long as it takes to get everyone who helped Canada out of Afghanistan.”
On Monday’s difficult anniversary, Monaghan hopes Canadians take a moment to think about the people of Afghanistan.
“Mostly, I would like people to think about how comfortable and happy and safe they are and then in comparison think about the lives that these families are living in Kabul, in terror, where they are afraid for their lives.”
Public hearings in Emergencies Act inquiry to start in September
OTTAWA — The inquiry into Ottawa’s unprecedented use of the Emergencies Act during protests in February will start its public hearings next month.
The Public Order Emergency Commission announced today that it expects the hearings to run from Sept. 19 until Oct. 28 at Library and Archives Canada in downtown Ottawa.
Commissioner Paul Rouleau said in a statement that he intends to hold the government to account and wants the inquiry to be as “open and transparent” as possible.
Hearings will be livestreamed online and members of the public will have opportunities to share their views, with a final report expected early next year.
Parties to the inquiry including “Freedom Convoy” organizers, police forces and all three levels of government are expected to testify and contribute documentary evidence on the invocation of the act in February.
The federal Liberals made the move amid border blockades and the occupation of downtown Ottawa by protesters demonstrating against COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 15, 2022.
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