The Liberal government could have evacuated many more Afghans from the troubled region had it streamlined its cumbersome bureaucratic process and maintained a stronger military and diplomatic presence, former top Canadian military commanders and experts say.
While the Canadian government was able to evacuate more than 3,700 people from Kabul, the number should have been “a hell of a lot more,” said retired major-general David Fraser, who commanded more than 2,000 NATO coalition troops during Operation Medusa in the Afghan province of Kandahar in 2006.
“The international world was surprised by the speed at which the Taliban took over. And [the Canadian government] applied the bureaucracy they had for normal operations,” Fraser said.
Fraser, along with retired major-generals Denis Thompson and Dean Milner are all volunteering to help extract Afghan interpreters from Afghanistan.
They are all former task-force commanders of Afghanistan, and have blamed government bureaucracy for gumming up the system and creating obstacles for Afghans trying to flee the country.
Those Afghans include former interpreters and support staff as well as their families who are now at risk of Taliban arrest or worse for having worked with the Canadian military and other organizations.
Earlier this week, another retired Canadian general, former chief of the defence staff Rick Hillier told CBC’s Power & Politics that Canada had “not shone greatly” and that the operation had been “so cluttered by bureaucratic clumsiness, bureaucratic inefficiency, bureaucratic paperwork.”
WATCH |Retired general Rick Hillier delivers damning assessment of Afghan evacuation:
He was joined other veterans and advocates who had complained for weeks about Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s handing of the crisis, which included complicated forms for Afghans to fill out, unrealistic and confusing application requirements and complete silence from the department after paperwork has been submitted.
Former lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie, who is also former Liberal MP, also took the government to task, tweeting: “Canada’s poor initial response in Kabul points to an extreme of centralized political micro-management.”
This week, Canadian officials announced that evacuation operations had finished ahead of the planned U.S. withdrawal from the country and that no more Canadian-operated flights were planned to take people out of Kabul.
However, Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their families, and those seeking refuge in Canada still remain and that it’s still not known how many potential migrants to Canada are still stuck in Afghanistan. Officials said they have received applications representing 8,000 people and that two-thirds of those applications have been processed.
Some of those applications, said Hillier, would have been difficult to fill out in Canada — “let alone someone in Afghanistan where paperwork is non-existent and identity forms and background stuff is sometimes very difficult or impossible to find.”
‘Nowhere near the numbers’
Milner agreed that the extra paperwork and bureaucracy meant people leaving Afghanistan were “nowhere near the numbers that we would have liked to have.”
“When you’ve got tight timelines, you’ve got to understand what to cut out,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to get to the cut to the chase.”
Instead, Afghans with basic documentation should have just been allowed to be airlifted to third-party locations where they could have been rigorously assessed through the “normal Canadian bureaucratic process,” Fraser said.
Thompson, who has expressed frustration with Ottawa’s handling of the evacuation, told CBC News on Friday that at this stage, with the government airlift operation over, he didn’t feel it prudent to criticize Ottawa for its response.
He said his focus was on the future and securing the passage of as many Afghans as possible.
Still, days earlier, he told CBC News Network about Afghans waiting outside the perimeter of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul and of a family, having dodged Taliban checkpoints, being denied access even though they had documentation and Canadian passports. He said he also heard from families who had been split up: some allowed to go, others denied because of inappropriate paper work.
WATCH | Many of those stranded in Afghanistan feel abandoned by Canada:
Thompson said there was a “bottleneck” at the gate entrance, that there needed to have been a “much more flexible entrance criteria” and that the measures being applied didn’t “even meet the common sense test,” he said earlier this week.
Friday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau defended his government’s actions, saying the speed with which the Taliban took control of Afghanistan came as a surprise to many around the world.
“I think a lot of people on the ground and around the world thought there would be more time,” he said.
“We accelerated our processes over the past number of weeks and months. We did everything we could.”
Meanwhile, the government has said visas issued to those Afghans eligible to come to Canada will remain valid even if they haven’t left the country yet. It also said it’s waiving immigration paperwork fees for Afghans outside and inside Canada.
No robust military presence to negotiate
The Liberal government has also been criticized for failing to help Afghan interpreters and their families get through Taliban checkpoints to the airport or negotiate safe passage.
“[Canada] had to ask a lot of favours of a lot of other countries because we don’t have a robust military presence there,” former anchor and correspondent Kevin Newman, who volunteers with Veterans Transition Network, told CBC Radio’s The Current.
“Many, many countries have set up a much more robust attempt to get people safely through Taliban checkpoints to the airport,” he said.
When Western embassies closed as the Taliban moved in, many other countries moved their staff onto the airfield.
“But we folded up our entire shop and came home, which would mean that it would be almost impossible to negotiate with the Taliban at that point,” Thompson said.
That meant, without that diplomatic footprint on the ground, Canada was unable to negotiate bus convoys inside the airport, he said.
“All of our allies had eyes and boots on the ground this week at Kabul’s airport. Canada did not. It closed its embassy and withdrew all its diplomats and military by jet to Ottawa just as the Taliban was rolling into town,” Newman recently wrote for Substack.
“The government left no one behind to talk to the Taliban, or our allies, as they organized and negotiated the rescue of thousands.”
Christian Leuprecht, a security expert and professor at the Royal Military College and Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., suggested Canada’s so-called evacuation strategy was to “basically piggyback on the Americans and we’ll try to get as many people out by putting as few Canadian resources at risk as possible.”
WATCH | Trudeau is asked what he would change if he had a chance to do the Kabul evacuation over:
“Our footprint was pretty small,” he said. “We didn’t send any troops and equipment that could complement the U.S. effort.”
Lacking political direction
What was lacking throughout was political direction, in part, because the election call meant many of the decision-makers were no longer in Ottawa, said Leuprecht.
“I think basically what the bureaucracy here got was: ‘We’ve got a problem. Go figure it out.’ And this sort of crisis requires clear political direction because the bureaucratic machine is not set up to kind of figure things out.“
With no direction, Canada took the minimalist approach, he said, which meant deploying as few military assets as possible.
“I think that is really sort of ultimately why the Canadian response was sort of relatively muted.”
BENANTHONY LAVOZ AND DELON OM GET RAW WITH “The Gentleman and Scholar”
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Front-line workers shoulder burden of vaccine mandates – CBC.ca
This story features an audience member, like you, who got in touch with us. Send us your questions. We are listening: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Service industry workers in Canada say they’re bearing the brunt of anger, frustration and general confusion from clients over new vaccine mandates that they had nothing to do with creating, but are now responsible for enforcing.
At the entrance to Wienstein & Gavino’s, an Italian restaurant in downtown Montreal, hostess Abigail Trevino is standing at the ready to greet clients and ask them for their proof of vaccination.
“I try to defuse the situation usually with a joke, saying that I feel more like a bouncer than a hostess these days,” said Trevino. “Usually people laugh at that and it’s enough to break the tension.”
For the most part, she said, people have been understanding of Quebec’s vaccine passport system, which came into effect on Sept. 1. Occasionally she’s had customers who were annoyed or frustrated, but no one who was outright aggressive.
“I had someone get quite visibly annoyed with me, but he did actually come back and apologize afterwards and say, ‘I realize that you don’t make the rules; I’m sorry I lost my temper.'”
‘Doubled the workload’
The challenge, more than anything, has been the extra work. “It’s basically doubled the workload,” Trevino said.
From troubleshooting technical issues with smartphone QR codes and apps, to answering phone calls from people asking what kind of proof is accepted, Trevino said her responsibilities as a hostess have suddenly expanded.
While she agrees with the vaccine passport in principle, she’d like to see more recognition from the government about the added burden it places on businesses and their employees, when they’re already dealing with staff shortages.
“We’re doing a lot of extra work for no extra money, and it eats into the time it takes to seat people. It slows everything down,” said Trevino.
“It would be nice if people could be a little bit nicer to restaurant workers, because I understand that it’s frustrating for people to have to pull out their ID and they’re not always expecting it.… [But] if people could just be patient and understanding, and realize that we don’t make the rules.”
Across the border in Ontario, people have had less time to get used to vaccine certificate requirements, which came into effect on Wednesday.
The rules apply to venues including indoor areas at restaurants and bars, gyms and recreational facilities, and entertainment venues.
The Hearty Hooligan, a vegan restaurant in Hamilton, warned customers of the changes last week through a post on its Instagram account.
“Providing proof of vaccination when you are looking to dine in is the law,” the post states. “Front-line workers have taken a lot of abuse throughout this pandemic and we will not tolerate any harassment over these policies.”
But in response to that, head chef Matthew Miles said they’ve faced an onslaught of angry comments from people accusing them of everything from discrimination to supporting tyranny.
When the mask mandate first came into effect, Miles said they had customers enter the restaurant without masks, arguing about their rights. They’re bracing for more of that type of attitude.
To help protect staff, the restaurant installed a bell near the front till that rings directly to the kitchen, so that employees can call for extra help if there’s a conflict.
“Our issue right now is mainly the safety of our front-line staff. We want them to feel supported and we want them to feel safe in their workspace,” Miles said.
Inspections and fines
In response to those concerns, a spokesperson for the Ontario health minister said bylaw officers are responsible for enforcing the new requirements and inspectors will be visiting establishments to offer help and support to staff.
Workers in Ontario are being asked to call 911 if they feel threatened for denying entry to someone who refuses to comply.
In Quebec, people who try to get into places requiring a vaccination passport without one risk receiving fines ranging from $1,000 to $6,000. Businesses that don’t enforce vaccine passport rules can also face fines between $1,000 to $6,000.
Alberta’s new proof-of-vaccination program is not mandatory, but some of the businesses that have chosen to adopt it say they’re ready to call police if people refuse to co-operate.
Outside the restaurant and bar industry, workers in a range of sectors are now adding enforcement of public health restrictions to their list of tasks.
Nadia Ali, a 19-year-old Carleton University student who works part time as a lifeguard, recently learned she would have to screen swimmers for proof of vaccination.
The pool where she works is in an Ottawa condo building, and Ali said some residents have been angry about the changes.
“One lady came in and she told me this was unjust and discrimination, and that she wouldn’t be coming here again,” Ali said. “I just told her, ‘I’m sorry but I just enforce the rules, I didn’t make them.'”
Her management has been supportive, she said, and if a resident was ever aggressive, she would ask for help from the front desk. So far, it hasn’t come to that.
More than anything, Ali said, it’s a lot of hassle and extra work. She hopes the process will get smoother with time.
It all comes down to employees being put in an unfair position that they never signed up for, according to Toronto-based employment lawyer Muneeza Sheikh.
“What we are doing, essentially, is we’re placing employees in a combative scenario when that isn’t part of their job duty,” she said.
Sheikh said some of her clients have hired new staff altogether — if they can afford it — to enforce vaccine mandates. But for establishments that don’t have or can’t afford security, she said the vaccine requirements put them in a difficult position.
“There are Canadian employees who have a significant amount of anxiety around going to work now around this vaccination passport and how it’s going to be implemented,” she said.
Britain offers Canadian military help to defend the Arctic – CBC.ca
Britain is signalling its interest in working with the Canadian military in the Arctic by offering to take part in cold-weather exercises and bring in some of its more advanced capabilities — such as nuclear-powered submarines — to help with surveillance and defence in the Far North.
In a recent exclusive interview with CBC News, the United Kingdom’s top military commander said his country is “keen to cooperate” and learn more about how to survive and fight in a cold, remote setting.
Gen. Sir Nick Carter said Britain would also like to “cooperate in terms of helping Canada do what Canada needs to do as an Arctic country.”
The offer was quietly floated months ago in government circles. Experts say, however, that successive Canadian governments have been reluctant to allow anyone — even close allies — to become too deeply embedded in the region.
WATCH: Gen. Sir Nick Carter discusses the prospect of military cooperation with Canada in the Arctic
Much of that reluctance has to do with contested claims to Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic. Concern over Canada’s exclusion from the recent security pact between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia may lend fresh urgency to the U.K.’s proposal, however.
CBC’s interview with Gen. Carter was conducted before the AUKUS pact was announced.
As members of NATO, both Britain and Canada have taken part in winter warfare exercises in Norway. Gen. Carter said he believes that cooperation could be expanded to the benefit of both countries. The British Army has for many years conducted armoured and combined warfare training at Suffield, Alta.
Keeping a closer eye on the Arctic
The Arctic is becoming more of a focus for NATO and Canada’s closest allies. The potential threat posed by the reactivation of Russia’s northern Cold War-era bases, as well as the interest of possible adversaries such as China, figured promptly in speeches and panel discussions at the recent NATO leaders summit last June.
Canada’s former Conservative government placed a premium on increasing Canada’s military presence in the Far North; it built a naval refuelling station and set in motion the construction of Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships, which are just being delivered.
Those measures offer Canada’s military limited capabilities, however. Underwater and satellite surveillance of the region is still in the planning and early implementation phases.
Carter said the U.K. has capabilities that could help keep closer tabs on the Arctic’s rapidly melting seas and inlets, but it would be up to the Canadian government to decide.
“We would absolutely defer to Canada’s expertise in this,” Carter told CBC News.
“I think we have military capabilities, certainly in the maritime domain and in terms of our science that would be useful to Canada and I think operating alongside Canada in that regard is going to be clearly good for both countries.”
What Britain has — and Canada lacks — is a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, which can operate under ice for extended periods of time.
When Canada bought its current diesel-electric submarines from Britain in the late 1990s it embarked on a project to retrofit them with fuel cells that would have delivered better, longer under-ice performance. The plan fell through and was quietly shelved.
In the late 1980s, the Conservative government of former prime minister Brian Mulroney proposed buying 12 nuclear-powered submarines with the goal of using them for Arctic defence. The end of the Cold War and subsequent defence cuts caused the plan to be shelved.
The University of Calgary’s Rob Huebert, one of the country’s leading experts on Arctic defence, said that after a hiatus of almost a dozen years, the British rejoined the biennial American high Arctic military exercise in 2018 with their nuclear-powered submarines.
Back in March, the Russians deployed three ultra-quiet nuclear subs to simultaneously punch through the Arctic ice in the same location — a demonstration that set the defence community buzzing.
“We do not have the capability of engaging Russian submarines or Chinese submarines, if and when that ever becomes a reality,” said Huebert, speaking about the Canadian navy’s Arctic inventory. “That’s the No. 1 capability that the British bring to the Arctic.”
CBC News asked Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s office to comment on the notion of closer cooperation with the British in Canada’s Far North. The query went unanswered.
Huebert said successive Canadian governments have been reluctant to let the allies become more deeply involved in the region, beyond the Operation Nanook exercise held each summer.
“We’re fearful any type of involvement with NATO would undermine our sovereignty,” said Huebert, noting that both the United States and Britain do not recognize Canada’s claim to the Northwest Passage.
Canada needs to show the flag: defence expert
The British offer of cooperation and assistance is a wake-up call for the Liberal government on several different fronts, said Dave Perry, a vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
It is, he said, a reminder that Canada needs to be more present in the region.
“There have been [Canadian] commitments to increase the situational awareness there, but that has a long way to go and the thing for Canadians to remember is that it is our actual territory and our backyard,” he said.
“I think it is great to work with other people, but we should be doing what we can to make sure we have a home field advantage.”
With Australia planning to acquire nuclear submarines — which conceivably could operate in the Arctic as well — Perry was asked if Canada will have to rely more on its allies to monitor and defend its territory.
“I think the AUKUS deal is an indicator that there are some countries with whom we have been intimately familiar and intimately allied with. Some of our best friends on the planet are firming even tighter, smaller clubs,” he said.
“The United States under successive administrations is being far less benign about allies that they look at as pulling — or not pulling — their weight … The United States is looking for people who will pull their weight.”
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