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Did Ottawa get a bad deal on its $7B fighter jets? Here’s what experts have to say



Experts are warning against drawing conclusions on whether Canada is getting a good deal for the F-35, given the large startup costs associated with buying and fielding a new fighter jet, which include much-needed upgrades to the Air Force‘s physical and digital infrastructure.

While a formal announcement has not been made, The Canadian Press reported on Tuesday that the Department of National Defence has received authorization to spend $7 billion on an initial set of 16 F-35s and associated gear.

While that works out to about $450 million per plane, which is about four times more than the publicly reported cost of the aircraft, the total includes weapons and spare parts, new facilities to house and maintain the fighter jets and upgrades to the military’s computer networks.

Experts say those infrastructure and network upgrades are necessary given the state of the Air Force’s current facilities and the advanced nature of the F-35 compared to the CF-18s, and they almost certainly account for most of the $7 billion.


“What’s occurred here is they basically front-loaded every single cost that wasn’t related to the acquisition of the aircraft,” said F-35 expert Richard Shimooka of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. “Hangars, labs and support equipment. They’ll probably buy all of the terminals and support equipment right off the bat.”

The Liberal government has repeatedly promised to buy a total of 88 new fighters to replace Canada’s aging CF-18s, which sources say will occur in batches.

The government has previously pegged the cost of buying the fleet at $19 billion. But Defence Minister Anita Anand confirmed earlier this year that figure was being “refined,” and it has not been clear what that figure does — and does not — include.

Many of the questions about the cost of Canada’s plan have revolved around an announcement last week that Germany has inked a US$8.4-billion deal to buy 35 F-35s and associated weapons, spare parts and support services from the United States. That works out to about C$11.4 billion, or $325 million per plane.

“The reported cost of this purchase, for only 16 jets, is outrageous,” NDP defence critic Lindsay Mathyssen said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Earlier this year, the government intended to purchase 88 fighter jets for $18 billion. Clearly today’s news suggests the government is not interested in getting the best value and is leaving Canadians on the hook to pay for their bad decisions.”

But Shimooka said Canada will end up paying less per plane than Germany, because it is one of eight partner countries that have been paying for the F-35’s development costs since 1997. Germany is not a partner country and is purchasing the plane from the U.S. through a different mechanism.

“So Germany’s not a great comparison,” he said.

Rather, he suspected that Canada, as a partner, will pay the same amount per plane as the United States. While that figure bounces around from year to year as Washington negotiates future production schedules with F-35 maker Lockheed Martin, the current fly-away cost is about $105 million per plane.

A report published by the Defence Department in August 2013 laid out the anticipated costs associated with replacing Canada’s CF-18s with F-35s. These included simulators, ground support equipment, repair facilities, a reprogramming lab and upgrades to various bases and airfields across the country.

Carleton University professor Philippe Lagassé, who previously served on an independent panel charged with assessing military procurements, said it is clear the $7 billion includes more than simply 16 F-35s.

“So you can’t just divide 16 by $7 billion,” he said. “We already know that involves infrastructure and involves upgrades, involves weapons systems. So there’s a lot bundling. And until we get the details, nobody can comment on what this involves in terms of per-unit cost.”

Retired lieutenant-general André Deschamps, who previously served as commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, said the government would need to spend money to upgrade the country’s fighter jet bases in Cold Lake, Alta., and Bagotville, Que., no matter what aircraft it ended up buying.

“These are 1950s hangars that we built in Cold Lake and we built in Bagotville,” said Deschamps, who now works for Ottawa-based CFN Consultants, a lobbying firm whose customers include Lockheed Martin. “So there’s a major investment required no matter what fleet we buy.”

The Defence Department had started planning to upgrade its fighter bases by awarding two contracts in 2020 to begin design work on new hangars. However, because the government had not yet committed to the F-35, that work was very generalized.

Deschamps said the requirements for the F-35 will be especially advanced given the nature of the aircraft. It will mean not only improving the physical facilities in Cold Lake, Bagotville and other places where they will operate, but also upgrading the military’s information systems.

“There’s a lot of costs in physical and digital infrastructure,” he said. “So that’s billions of dollars to do all the bases, forward-operating locations, deployed operating locations. Anywhere these fighters go, you’re going to have to have an improved footprint so they can operate from those locations.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 21, 2022.


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



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.


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



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.


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



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.


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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