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Mom of last Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan named Silver Cross Mother

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OTTAWA — We’ll see you at Christmas.

It was October 2011 and Candy Greff was standing outside a restaurant in Morinville, Alta.,saying goodbye to her son Byron Greff. Little did she know that it would be the last time she would see him alive.

A 28-year-old master corporal with the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry based out of Edmonton, Byron was heading back to Afghanistan following a brief visit home to see the birth of his daughter, Brielle.

“It was difficult to say goodbye to him,” Candy remembers. “But then at the same time: ‘Goodbye, love you. See you at Christmas.’”

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Days later, Byron and 20 other people were killed when a suicide bomber ran his explosive-laden car into an armoured bus carrying troops through Kabul. He was the last of 158 Canadian soldiers killed in the war in Afghanistan.

Eleven years later, Candy has been named this year’s Silver Cross Mother by the Royal Canadian Legion. She will lay a wreath at the National War Memorial on Remembrance Day on behalf of all mothers who have lost children in service to Canada.

Speaking about her son from her home in Lacombe, Alta., Candy recalled Byron as “a little mischievous,” but someone who gave his whole heart to whatever he was doing. That included playing hockey and golfing with his wife, Lindsay.

Byron didn’t grow up with military friends or family, so it was a bit of a surprise when he told his parents in Grade 9 that he wanted to join cadets in Red Deer. Three years later, he announced he wanted to join the Canadian Army.

“I don’t know where he got the idea from, that this would be something interesting to do,” Candy said, adding: “It scared me half to death. … We weren’t very closely associated with anyone in the military at that time, and it was frightening.”

Candy and her husband Greg nonetheless supported their son’s decision.

“He was a very determined young man, and this is what he wanted. And this is what he was doing. And we said: ‘We’re proud of you. Go for it.’”

Byron was 17 years old when he left for basic training shortly after high school graduation. He had just turned 18 when terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, launching more than a decade of war in Afghanistan.

The first Canadian troops deployed to Afghanistan in early 2002 as part of a U.S.-led mission to destroy al-Qaida. Candy remembers the moment that she and her husband realized their son might be joining them.

“One of the commanding officers at his graduation ceremony came up to Greg and I and said: ‘Are you the parents of a Byron Greff?’” she recalls. “He said: ‘You do know there is a chance that he may have to go to Afghanistan?’”

Byron would eventually deploy to Afghanistan twice. The first time was in 2007, at which point Canadian soldiers were involved in heavy fighting with Taliban insurgents in the southern province of Kandahar.

Candy remembers the nervousness of those months as news reports came back of other Canadian soldiers having been killed and wounded. But Byron managed to make it home to his family, including Lindsay and their young son Kellar.

Four years later, Byron was deployed on his second tour to Afghanistan. This time, Canadian soldiers weren’t fighting the Taliban. Instead, Byron and others were training Afghan soldiers in what was supposed to be a relatively safe mission.

While Byron was the last Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan before Canada’s military mission there officially ended in 2014, Candy says that distinction doesn’t carry any special meaning or importance to her.

“Because each and every one killed there (is) equally as important as the first or the last, or any of them in between,” she said. “All of the conflicts that the Armed Forces have been in, and anyone who has lost their lives, they’re all very important.”

Nearly a decade after Byron was killed, Afghanistan was taken over by the Taliban. While she said she is sad for Afghans there who had hoped for freedom, Candy believes her son and his colleagues nonetheless did some good for the country.

“He worked hard,” she said. “He did what he needed to do there and made a difference, I believe in my heart.”

Candy said she will be thinking of her son as well as all those other Canadians who have laid down their lives in service to their country when she lays a wreath on Remembrance Day.

And while she continues to feel the pain and sadness of his loss in her heart, “I need to hold my head up high. That’s what Byron would want of all of us.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 1, 2022.

 

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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Canadian military would be ‘challenged’ to launch a large scale operation: chief of the defence staff

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OTTAWA –

Canada’s military forces are “ready” to meet their commitments should Russia’s war in Ukraine spread to NATO countries, but it would be a “challenge” to launch a larger scale operation in the long term, with ongoing personnel and equipment shortages, according to Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre.

Eyre told Joyce Napier on CTV’s Question Period in an interview airing Sunday that while the forces in Europe are “ready for the tactical mission they’ve been assigned,” he has larger concerns about strategic readiness. He said there’s a lack of people and equipment, and further concern around the ability to sustain a larger scale mission in the longer term.

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The Canadian Armed Forces are still struggling to retain staff, with nearly 10,000 fewer trained personnel than they’d need to be at full force, and equipment stocks below what they require.

“We’ve got challenges in all of those,” Eyre said, adding the numbers reflect what’s been “let slip over decades, as we’ve focused on the more immediate (needs).”

Eyre said Canada’s military would be “hard pressed” to launch another large-scale operation like it had in Afghanistan, as an example, without having to redistribute its resources around the globe, as threats evolve.

“The military that we have now is going to be increasingly called upon to support Canada and to support Canadian interests, to support our allies overseas, but as well at home,” Eyre said, citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, climate change impacting the landscape in the Arctic, and an increase in digital and cybersecurity threats.

“It’s always a case of prioritization and balancing our deployments around the globe, not just with what, but when, and with who … and getting that balance right is something that that we’re working on,” he said. “Could we use more? Yeah, absolutely. But we operate with what we have.”

“We prioritize and balance based on what our allies need, and what the demand signals, just to make sure that we achieve the strategic effect the government wants us to achieve,” he also said.

Meanwhile Defence Minister Anita Anand said on CTV’s Question Period last week that Canada should “be able to walk and chew gum at the same time,” and balance its NATO commitments with securing the Arctic and promoting peace in the Indo-Pacific.

Eyre said his number one priority is getting Canada’s armed forces up to full strength, with an attrition rate of 9.3 per cent between both regular and reserve forces, up from 6.9 per cent last year. The Canadian Armed Forces Retention Strategy was released just last month.

“We are facing the same challenge that every other industry out there is facing in terms of a really tight labor market,” Eyre said. “Every other military in the West is facing the same challenge.”

He explained the organization is working on streamlining its recruitment process, among other changes, to meet the increasing need, with the goal to get numbers up “as quickly as possible.”

“Ideally, would have been yesterday,” he said. “We’re looking at where we can accelerate the recruiting, the training, and optimizing our training pipeline.”

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How soccer is evolving in Canada

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Soccer wasn’t really a thing when I was a kid. I grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s. Sure, we all had soccer balls. And we played a lot of what should be more accurately called, Kick and Run. But I – and all my friends – did not really know the rules, the teams or the players. We might’ve heard of Pelé, but not more than that.

We followed hockey, baseball, football (CFL and NFL) and basketball, in that order. I did occasionally watch soccer on TV, but that was because we didn’t have a lot of channels and the soothing English accents often lulled me to sleep.

Things are much different now. My 13-year-old son is a massive soccer fan. He plays on a team three or four times a week. His schoolmates include a lot of second-generation Canadians, whose parents came from soccer-obsessed nations. He watches Premier League and Championship League matches. He’s watches La Liga and Bundesliga. He watches World Cup qualifiers and could tell me the backstory on most of the players. In fact, he watches classic games on YouTube and plays FIFA22 on his PS4 and as a result, knows more about Pelé than I ever did. But, because of him, I now watch enough football to know a game is a match, a goalie is a keeper and I know which plays end up in corner kicks or throw-ins.

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I once asked him, “How well do you know the Germany national team?” and he said, “Not very well.” He then proceeded to name seven of their 11 starters. It’s a different world.

I still know almost nothing compared to the other soccer dads, but like millions of Canadians, I watched Canada’s qualifying matches and I know we have a great team, with some stellar players who are worth watching. The qualifying matches regularly beat both hockey games and CFL football when it comes to viewership.

But we should care about more than just the matches themselves. The World Cup is one of the biggest and most lucrative sports spectacles on Earth. This will be the first one hosted in the Middle East. And although Qatar may look shiny and new on TV, it’s mired in what many Western nations believe to be medieval and backwards policies on working conditions, LGBTQ2S+ and women’s rights.

Finding people to talk about it in Qatar is NOT easy. One of W5’s goals this week was to talk to migrant workers to describe how they were treated, their living conditions and their labour rights. Most were too afraid to talk to us.

And to confound things, there have been many stories of journalists being detained or arrested for reporting on migrant workers. Last week, a Danish reporter was live on TV from Qatar and when asked what things were like there, he directed his camera operator to pan left – revealing security officials in golf carts, who immediately tried to stop the live hit. The next day Qatari officials apologized, but the message was clear: we can stop you from reporting when we want. It’s a fascinating video that’s been viewed millions of times around the globe.

The Qatari government denies they’ve put any restrictions on media. In a tweet, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy says “several regional and international media outlets are based in Qatar, and thousands of journalists report from Qatar freely without interference each year.”

Not everyone is convinced. Qatar ranks 118 out of 180 countries in the 2022 Press Freedom index, published by Reporters Without Borders. Freedom House, which is a U.S.-based freedom watchdog, gives Qatar a 25 out of 100 score on Global Freedom, which includes freedom of expression. (Canada ranks 98 and the US ranks 83).

A Reuters Institute column from last week on press freedom in Qatar suggests authorities obscure press freedom laws, by hiding behind trespassing laws.

“One of the most common risks when doing journalistic work in Qatar is to be accused of trespassing. This is what Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Ghorbani of Norwegian state broadcaster NRK were accused of when they were arrested by officers of Qatar’s Criminal Investigations Department in November 2021, while covering World Cup preparations. The journalists were held for over 30 hours before being released without charge. They deny they were filming without permission,” says the article.

A little insider info: I have personally written, “we don’t want you to get arrested, but…” at least twice in correspondence with our team in Qatar. I’ve never encouraged anyone to break the law of course, but sometimes doing our jobs leads police or security into thinking they have a duty (or at least a right) to stop you.

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Don’t have a cow: Senator’s legen-dairy speech draws metaphor from bovine caper

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OTTAWA — Haven’t you herd? A dramatic tale of 20 escaped cows, nine cowboys and a drone recently unfolded in St-Sévère, Que., and it behooved a Canadian senator to milk it for all it was worth.

Prompting priceless reactions of surprise from her colleagues, Sen. Julie Miville-Dechêne recounted the story of the bovine fugitives in the Senate chamber this week — and attempted to make a moo-ving point about politics.

“Honourable senators, usually, when we do tributes here, it is to recognize the achievements of our fellow citizens,” Miville-Dechêne began in French, having chosen to wear a white blouse with black spots for the occasion.

“However, today, I want to express my amused admiration for a remarkably determined herd of cows.”

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On a day when senators paid tribute to a late Alberta pastor, the crash of a luxury steamer off the coast of Newfoundland in 1918 and environmental negotiators at the recent climate talks in Egypt, senators seated near Miville-Dechêne seemed udderly taken aback by the lighter fare — but there are no reports that they had beef with what she was saying.

Miville-Dechêne’s storytelling touched on the highlights of the cows’ evasion of authorities after a summer jailbreak — from their wont to jump fences like deer to a local official’s entreaty that she would not go running after cattle in a dress and high heels.

The climax of her narrative came as nine cowboys — eight on horseback, one with a drone — arrived from the western festival in nearby St-Tite, Que., north of Trois-Rivières, and nearly nabbed the vagabonds before they fled through a cornfield.

“They are still on the run, hiding in the woods by day and grazing by night,” said Miville-Dechêne, with a note of pride and perhaps a hint of fromage.

She neglected to mention the reported costs of the twilight vandalism, which locals say has cost at least $20,000.

But Miville-Dechêne did save some of her praise for the humans in the story, congratulating the municipal general manager, Marie-Andrée Cadorette, for her “dogged determination,” and commending the would-be wranglers for stepping up when every government department and police force in Quebec said there was nothing they could do.

“There is a political lesson in there somewhere,” said the former journalist.

Miville-Dechêne ended on what could perhaps be interpreted as a butchered metaphor about non-partisanship: “Finally, I would like to confess my unbridled admiration for these cows that have found freedom and are still out there, frolicking about. While we overcomplicate things, these cows are learning to jump fences.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2022.

 

Marie-Danielle Smith, The Canadian Press

 

 

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