OTTAWA — Expectations are high as Defence Minister Anita Anand prepares to unveil the federal government’s plans to upgrade North America’s aging defences, whose importance has only grown in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The announcement at an Ontario air force base on Monday morning comes amid numerous warnings from U.S. and Canadian military officials and experts about the state of Norad, the shared early-warning defence network that’s badly showing its age.
Anand has been promising a robust package of investments for upgrading the system, which was first established in the 1950s and is responsible for detecting incoming airborne and maritime threats to North America, including missiles and aircraft.
Those promises were reiterated earlier this month when Anand and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Norad headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., though neither offered any specific details at that time.
The Liberal government has only said that some of the $8 billion in new military funding in April’s federal budget will be spent on Norad, which is expected to include a new long-range radar system capable of detecting threats coming over the Arctic.
Anand also said last month that the government was weighing whether Canada should finally join the U.S. in actively defending against intercontinental ballistic missiles, after Ottawa famously opted out of the controversial program in 2005.
Yet all of that to this point has been largely talk from the Canadian side as the U.S. has pressed ahead on several fronts — including with new missile interceptors and artificial intelligence to merge data from a variety of different sources to detect an attack.
Anand has instead said discussions have lingered on the threat of long-range missiles and the importance of four key principles: situational awareness, command and control, research and development and an understanding of potential threats to North America.
There have been questions about how much the entire effort will cost. Most experts predict the price tag will be in the billions, with Canada on the hook for 40 per cent of the total.
The lack of concrete Canadian action has not gone unnoticed in Washington, said University of Manitoba associate professor Andrea Charron, one of Canada’s top experts on Norad. That is especially true in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“They need Canada to do certain things,” Charron said. “And whereas before they could be patient and say: ‘Okay, it’ll come,’ I think they’re at the end of their patience.”
That growing impatience has been illustrated by several high-level visits by U.S. officials to Ottawa, Charron said, as well as during congressional hearings in Washington.
When asked about Canada’s involvement in continental defence during one such hearing in March, Norad’s commander, U.S. Gen. Glen VanHerck, said Ottawa was “in the decision-making process,” adding: “I look forward to seeing what they come up with.”
VanHerck had previously said during a visit to the Canadian capital in November that he was awaiting political direction on Norad modernization, including what to do with a string of 1980s-era radars in Canada’s Arctic known as the North Warning System.
Last summer, then-defence minister Harjit Sajjan and U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin issued a statement in which they committed to several priority areas, including maintaining the North Warning System until a new long-range radar system can be built.
Canadian defence firms were briefed earlier this year about plans to build an over-the-horizon system that could detect threats approaching North American cities from over the Arctic. The radar, to be based in southern Canada, is expected to cost $1 billion.
Retired general Tom Lawson, who was Norad’s deputy commander before serving as Canada’s chief of the defence staff from 2012-15, said replacing the North Warning System is one of several areas of continental defence in need of investment.
But at this point in time, he said, any movement would be welcome after so many years of talk.
“If we get an announcement that adds $1 billion or $2 billion in investment over the coming five years, I’m a happy man.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 19, 2022.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
Air Canada to make 'meaningful reductions' to summer flight schedule – CBC News
Air Canada will cut dozens of daily flights this summer as the airline grapples with a series of challenges amid soaring demand for travel.
“Regrettably, things are not business as usual in our industry globally, and this is affecting our operations and our ability to serve you with our normal standards of care,” Michael Rousseau, the airline’s president and CEO, said in a statement released Wednesday.
“The COVID‑19 pandemic brought the world air transport system to a halt in early 2020. Now, after more than two years, global travel is resurgent, and people are returning to flying at a rate never seen in our industry.”
Rousseau said those factors are causing “unprecedented and unforeseen strains on all aspects of the global aviation system,” leading to flight delays and crowded airport spaces.
And it’s also spurring the airline to make “meaningful reductions” to its summer schedule “in order to reduce passenger volumes and flows to a level we believe the air transport system can accommodate,” he said.
Dozens of fewer round trips each day
Peter Fitzpatrick, an airline spokesperson, told CBC News that the changes would see Air Canada reduce its schedule by 77 round trips — or 154 flights — on average, each day during the months of July and August.
Prior to these reductions, the airline was operating about 1,000 flights per day.
“Three routes will be temporarily suspended between Montreal and Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Kelowna and one from Toronto to Fort McMurray,” Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick said “most” flights affected by the changes are out of its Toronto and Montreal hubs.
“These will be mostly frequency reductions, affecting primarily evening and late-night flights by smaller aircraft, on transborder and domestic routes,” he said.
But he said “international flights are unaffected, with a few timing changes to reduce flying at peak times and even out the customer flow.”
‘Not an easy decision’
Rousseau, the airline president, said Air Canada did what it could to prepare for these challenges, but it has to adjust its operations to the current circumstances.
“This was not an easy decision, as it will result in additional flight cancellations that will have a negative impact on some customers,” Rousseau said.
“But doing this in advance allows affected customers to take time to make other arrangements in an orderly manner, rather than have their travel disrupted shortly before or during their journey, with few alternatives available.”
Rousseau offered his “sincere apologies” to customers for any delays they have faced or will face.
“I also assure you that we very clearly see the challenges at hand, that we are taking action, and that we are confident we have the strategy to address them,” he said. “This is our company’s chief focus at every level.”
A majority of domestic flights have been delayed at some of the country’s busiest airports in recent days, according to the analytics firm Data Wazo.
Data Wazo says 54 per cent of flights to six large airports — Montreal, Calgary, Toronto’s Pearson and Billy Bishop airports, Ottawa and Halifax — were bumped off schedule in the seven days between June 22 and 28.
Some 38 per cent of the flights were delayed while 16 per cent were scrapped altogether.
Airlines and the federal government have been scrambling to respond to scenes of endless lines, flight disruptions and daily turmoil at airports — particularly at Pearson — a problem the aviation industry has blamed on a shortage of federal security and customs officers.
Memorial service held for RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson, killed in N.S. mass shooting
HALIFAX — An RCMP officer who was among 22 people killed in the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting was remembered Wednesday during a regimental service in Halifax for her “fierce” character and brave actions.
People lined a street leading to the service for Const. Heidi Stevenson, watching as Mounties and municipal police marched, bagpipers and drummers played, and a hearse brought the officer’s urn to the ceremony at the Cole Harbour hockey arena.
COVID-19 restrictions had delayed the official ceremony, though a family funeral took place five days after Stevenson was killed.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said during the service that Stevenson would be remembered for “her courage and strength of character.”
She said the force will remember Stevenson’s “heroism that day and the bravery she demonstrated and the actions she took to protect the community she cared so deeply about.”
A public inquiry into the mass shooting has indicated that the veteran officer was racing to support an injured colleague on April 19, 2020, when the fatal encounter occurred on a highway interchange about 60 kilometres north of Halifax.
The 48-year-old officer died in a gunfight with the killer, who had jumped a lane of traffic in his replica police vehicle in order to drive the wrong way down a ramp and slam into Stevenson’s cruiser.
Public inquiry documents say bullet fragments from Stevenson’s pistol “likely” struck the killer’s head, and — about 35 minutes later — blood on his forehead tipped off an officer who shot and killed the gunman at a gas station.
The inquiry has also noted that Stevenson had at 8:44 a.m. that morning called for the public to be notified about the killer driving a replica RCMP vehicle. Her request never received a response.
During the service, four friends noted her strong personality and sense of justice.
Her longtime friend Angela McKnight described Stevenson as a “fierce woman” who chose the RCMP over kinesiology and developed physical strength through playing rugby at university.
She said Stevenson had to undergo laser eye surgery and overcome a torn knee ligament in order to make it into the RCMP following her graduation.
“Heidi surrounded herself with strong women focused on supporting each other,” she said. “I know no better … no tougher, more determined woman than her.”
Childhood friend Nona Heinbecker recalled Stevenson’s sense of loyalty to her female friends, telling those gathered how the officer had happily found a spot to sleep on a hospital floor when Heinbecker was in labour.
People watching the procession to the service also described their admiration for Stevenson, who is survived by her husband and two children.
Randy Stevenson, a military veteran, and Jan Hill, whose husband had worked with the constable, were among those waiting on the sidewalk for the procession.
The veteran, who is not related to the fallen Mountie, described her as exemplifying “what the police and the military are about,” while Hill praised the officer’s deep involvement in her community of Dartmouth, N.S.
Heidi Stevenson grew up in Antigonish, N.S., and attended university in Nova Scotia. She was with the Mounties for 23 years, developing expertise in drug recognition, general duty policing and communications. She also spent time in Ottawa as part of the RCMP musical ride, even though she had no previous experience with horses.
In a statement provided to the inquiry, the Stevenson family said community support was helpful following her killing. “There were months of meals provided and seeing the Nova Scotia Strong stickers on everyone’s car meant so much. The phone call from the Prime Minister was very personal,” the family said in their statement.
Police estimated about 1,300 people attended the ceremony, which was broadcast live.
The Anglican minister presiding at the service noted Stevenson’s Christian faith, and quoted from a New Testament text emphasizing that hope, faith and love “abide,” and that love is the greatest of the three due to its eternal nature.
Rev. Katherine Bourbonniere said during her homily that even in death, “she (Stevenson) will constantly be trying to touch you in different ways.”
She recalled accompanying Stevenson when she drove to homes to notify next of kin of a death. “I saw her love in her job and in her position many a time. She would show compassion for every person she met, and it was … beautiful,” she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.
Lyndsay Armstrong and Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press
Explosive devices found in a vehicle connected to B.C. bank robbers killed
SAANICH, B.C. — Multiple explosive devices were found in a vehicle related to the two suspects who were gunned down outside a bank in Saanich, B.C.
Saanich Chief Const. Dean Duthie said Wednesday an RCMP explosive disposal unit was able to transfer the devices from the vehicle to a local landfill and destroy them.
Police had evacuated the area shortly after the shooting on Tuesday as the RCMP’s explosives disposal unit was called in.
Six officers were shot and two suspects were killed in the shootout with police on Tuesday.
Duthie said three of the officers remain in hospital, including one who is in intensive care, while another officer will require more surgeries.
He said he spoke with one of the officers in hospital and said the police department will be there to support him.
“We’re here for his family … to let him know that the policing community is behind him 100 per cent.”
The chief said police are still investigating the possibility of a third suspect, although they don’t believe there’s a risk to the public.
He said police were acting on vague information.
“Our goal was to keep the public safe,” he said of police ordering residents near the bank to stay inside on Tuesday.
Police said in a statement that they aren’t able to confirm identities, background or motive of the suspects.
Duthie said work is underway to try to confirm the suspects’ names.
Duthie has looked at much of the video footage of the incident and said it’s a miracle that no one else died.
“It’s astonishing that there was no other citizen or member of the public injured,” he said, crediting the quick actions of officers who responded.
“Both patrol officers and Greater Victoria emergency response officers (put) themselves in harm’s way to bring it to a successful and safe conclusion as quickly as possible.”
A woman trapped inside the bank during the robbery told CFAX radio she was in a meeting with the manager when she heard a loud explosion and then silence.
Shelli Fryer, 59, of Langford said she looked from the doorway and a few feet from her was “a man in full assault gear, holding an assault rifle.”
Fryer said the masked man was wearing all black, had an armoured vest over his jacket and was holding a black rifle that was shorter and stockier than what she was used to seeing in the media.
“The energy from them was completely calm,” she said.
She heard one gunman quietly say to the manager, “vault,” and the manager handed him the keys and they both walked out of the office, she said.
Fryer said the other suspect was pacing the floor, just walking back and forth past the office, “like he was going for a walk in the park, just pacing as if he was waiting for something.”
The robbers put all 22 people who were in the bank against a wall in a back hallway and they waited for what felt like an eternity, she said. “We heard nothing at all of what was transpiring outside, we couldn’t hear sirens.”
She heard in a loud voice, “Police!” and then a hail of gunfire, and everybody ran to hide.
Fryer said every one of the police officers involved in the “absolutely insane incident” handled themselves professionally, and then later treated those who were in the bank with kindness and concern.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press
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