We are all asleep at the wheel

And we know what usually happens in that situation.

Military is off the radar of most Canadians: DND poll

Canadian soldiers take part in NATO operations near Skrunda, Latvia on June 11. Most Canadians seem only vaguely aware they have a military, according to new research conducted for National Defence. (Cpl. Jean-Roch Chabot/Combat Camera)

Most Canadians seem only vaguely aware they have a military and are decidedly confused — or uncertain — about what it does, according to new research conducted for National Defence.

The bi-annual report, carried out this year by Earnscliffe Strategy Group, found that while general and specific knowledge was low, appreciation for individuals who serve was high.

The report, dated July 4, examined what sort of public perception remained following the release of the Liberal government’s marquee defence policy last year.

The findings stand in abrupt contrast to surveys over the last decade, where the Afghan war seared awareness of the military into the public consciousness.

The inconspicuous profile is a significant challenge for a military that is attempting to increase the size of the regular and reserve forces.

“Awareness of and familiarity with the [Canadian Armed Forces] was generally very low; virtually non-existent among those in the younger age group,” said the research report, which included focus groups and a telephone survey conducted last winter and spring.

“Indeed, few had recently seen, read or heard anything about the [Canadian Armed Forces].”

Only 26 per cent say they had some awareness of what the military had been doing in the last year and less than half — 42 per cent — described themselves as “somewhat familiar” with the Forces.

Peacekeeping still top of mind

Presentation of the research comes just a week after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced increased commitments to NATO missions in Latvia and Iraq.

The report found recognition that there were troops overseas, but an ill-defined notion of where they were and what they were doing.

“Most participants had a hard time conjuring up where they thought Canada was currently active internationally, though some brought up involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, peacekeeping missions in Africa and disaster relief in Haiti,” said the report.

The impression Canadians were involved in peacekeeping was also deeply embedded, even though the number of soldiers assigned to UN missions was — until just very recently — at an all-time low. Up to 250 aircrew and soldiers for a helicopter detachment supporting the UN peacekeeping force in Mali will be fully in place later this summer.

The survey portion found 90 per cent of those asked believed Canadian troops should be conducting disaster assistance on the world stage, followed closely at 85 per cent by those who believe in conducting peace support missions.

Members of the Canadian Forces move their luggage before taking off from CFB Trenton on July 5. The soldiers are heading to Mali for Operation Presence to support the United Nations peace mission. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

During the Afghan war, participants in previous surveys bemoaned how the combat mission in Kandahar had changed the character of the Canadian military, and they pined for a return to the day of peacekeeping.

At home, the majority of people see the military’s mission as combating terrorism, but beyond that they’re not quite sure what the military should be doing.

Domestic role unclear

“Participants were hard-pressed to volunteer what roles they believed the [Canadian Armed Forces] plays domestically,” said the report.

There was, in fact, confusion among focus group respondents about the military’s role in the Arctic, a policy the previous Conservative government held dear.

“Many were surprised to learn about the [Canadian Armed Forces]’s role in patrolling the Arctic and there was some uncertainty about the importance of this role, particularly among the younger participants,” said the research report. “They tended to think of the CAF’s role in the Arctic as being about protecting the environment, while the older group was more aware of the territorial ‘dispute’ with Russia, Denmark, and the U.S.”

The research is disturbing but not surprising to Rob Huebert, a political science professor at the University of Calgary and a senior research fellow with the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies.

He said it’s troubling because the world has become more unstable, and by the Liberal government’s own admission Canada cannot depend any longer on the United States to defend it.

The findings of the survey and the focus groups, Huebert said, show fundamental lack of understanding about the role of the military in the world, and that does not bode well for recruiting and for society in general.

‘Memories are short’

It should have been entirely expected and cannot necessarily be addressed by ad campaigns and community outreach, he said.

“We haven’t had anything in your face since Afghanistan,” he said. “Memories are short.”

Aside from the absence of a high-profile conflict, Huebert said, provincial education systems have focused on culture rather than conflict when teaching history.

Canadian Special Forces troops launch into a mission from a base in Erbil, Iraq, on Nov. 14, 2016. (Murray Brewster/CBC)

“Many educators are uncomfortable with the idea of getting up and saying we need a military where individuals are trained to — if necessary — kill others,” he said.

The federal political culture for decades has also contributed to a collective amnesia.

“Ultimately, the horrible thing about all of this is that we’ve had the luxury of always depending upon the Americans to take care of anything that is really nasty. So, therefore, we can pretend the military is there as a warm and fuzzy thing,” Huebert said.

The current government’s focus on the so-called softer aspects of defence — peacekeeping and gender equality — could backfire if a serious conflict erupts, he said.

‘Demilitarizing our military’

“The Liberal have been very successful in demilitarizing our military,” said Huebert. “We have men and women in harm’s way in Ukraine and in Latvia, and if they blow up I think you’re going to have an awful lot of shocked Canadians because they’d be saying, ‘I thought our military was all about the environment and peacekeeping.'”

A spokesman for National Defence said the report helps inform the department’s recruiting strategy, and much of that effort is being channelled through digital platforms.

“These platforms typically include both social media and traditional websites,” said Dan Le Bouthillier in a statement.

“In addition, DND and the CAF have multiple social media channels that are used to amplify the recruitment message and support the online advertising campaign.”

The report, which cost $144,650.55 including taxes, was based on focus groups held in four cities during February, with two groups (18- to 34-year-olds and 35- to 65-year-olds) in each city.

Quantitative results were based on a telephone survey of 1,524 Canadians conducted between April 30 and May 21 by the polling firm Léger, with the weighted results considered accurate within a margin of error of plus or minus 2.53 per cent.

About the Author

Murray Brewster
Defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.


Operations Update – July 2018

Operation PRESENCE – Mali | Mali

The CAF is supporting the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA) in Mali. Operation PRESENCE – Mali will be twelve months long and its core mission is to provide MINUSMA with a 24/7 capability to medically evacuate UN forces by air. When possible, the CAF could also provide other services such as transportation and logistics to expedite the movement of troops, equipment and supplies across the area of operations.

On June 24, 2018, the first members of the theatre activation team arrived in Mali. The team includes approximately 280 CAF personnel. They are operating in several locations in West Africa to prepare for the arrival of the main body of the Operation PRESENCE – Mali task force.

The team, which comprises mostly logisticians and combat service support personnel, will remain in the region until the task force is in place and will complete a variety of tasks, including:

  • preparing the United Nations camp in Gao, Mali
  • coordinating the transportation of equipment and vehicles
  • making sure that communications systems are installed.

Search and Rescue (SAR) | Across Canada

The three Joint Rescue Coordination Centres tasked CAF assets 94 times to conduct SAR operations during the month of June.


  • On June 12, the Victoria Joint Rescue Coordination Centre tasked a CH-149 Cormorant and a CC-115 Buffalo for a medical evacuation for a US patient on cruise liner Norwegian Jewel. The Cormorant transported the patient, a family member and the ship nurse to an Emergency Health Services helicopter, which took them to Nanaimo, BC.
  • On June 16, the Trenton Joint Rescue Coordination Centre tasked two CC-130 Hercules and a CH-146 Griffon to evacuate 6 hunters stranded in an open boat near Whale Cove, NU. Both of the Hercules located the hunters, and dropped them survival equipment and a shelter, the nearby Canadian Coast Guard Ship Amundsen launched their helicopter and picked up the 6 hunters, returning them to Whale Cove, NU.
  • On June 18, the Halifax Joint Rescue Coordination Centre tasked a CH-149 Cormorant with a medical evacuation after Eastern Health requested assistance transporting a patient from Burin, NL to St. John’s, NL.

In Canada, search and rescue is a shared responsibility between government, military, volunteer, academic, and industry groups. The CAF’s main responsibility is providing SAR from the air. It also coordinates the national response for air, ground and maritime SAR.

Operation CADENCE | Quebec

May 23, 2018 to June 13, 2018, the CAF supported the RCMP security effort for the G7 Summit, which took place in Quebec’s Charlevoix region.

The CAF supported the RCMP with planning, conducting air transportation and monitoring the air, sea, and land in the region. The CAF’s presence was based on the needs identified by the RCMP.

Operation CADENCE included:

  • over 2 206 sailors, soldiers, and air women and air men
  • 269 Canadian Army military and commercial vehicles
  • 15 Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft
  • 7 Royal Canadian Navy vehicles and boats
  • 1 long-range radar site in support or NORAD
  • 1 medical care facility at the Charlevoix airport.

Operation NEVUS | Nunavut

Operation NEVUS 2018 is taking place from June 15 to July 15, 2018 and is the annual deployment of a CAF technical team to Ellesmere Island. It performs essential maintenance on the High Arctic Data Communications System (HADCS).

In addition to HADCS maintenance, this year’s iteration also includes environmental work as a second line of operations. The Environmental Stewardship Project works on improving the environmental state of Northern Ellesmere Island. The CAF is visiting sites of legacy fuel caches and abandoned research stations, collecting samples, and assessing environmental impact.

Opration CARIBBE | Pacific Ocean

A Royal Canadian Air Force CP-140 Aurora aircraft concluded its deployment on Operation CARIBBE on June 10, 2018.

The CP-140 Aurora supported Joint Interagency Task Force South. It was credited with tracking a small boat suspected of smuggling narcotics in international waters of the eastern Pacific. The aircrew relayed the information to the United States Coast Guard. The USCG then seized approximately 810 kg of cocaine from the suspect vessel. The cocaine seized in this case was part of more than 6,000 kilos of contraband offloaded by the USCG in Florida on June 8, 2018.

Operation CARIBBE is a recurring operation that takes place in the Caribbean Sea and the eastern Pacific Ocean. Under this operation, Canada sends CAF ships and aircraft to help Operation MARTILLO, a United States-led effort involving fourteen countries that aims to stop trafficking.

Exercise TRADEWINDS | Caribbean

CAF members participated in Exercise TRADEWINDS from June 4 to 21, 2018. The exercise included participants from 22 nations and key regional organizations and took place in St. Kitts and Nevis, and the Bahamas.

The CAF participated on land and at sea. In total, 80 soldiers and sailors contributed to the exercise. These included Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Shawinigan, a dive team from Fleet Diving Unit (Atlantic), mentors from the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Army, and a joint CAF and Global Affairs Canada disaster assessment team.

Exercise TRADEWINDS is an annual training event in the Caribbean led by the U.S. Southern Command. The exercise brings together defence and security partners from different countries to improve security in the region.

Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) | Hawaiian Islands and Southern California

Over 1 000 Canadian sailors, soldiers, and aviators are participating in RIMPAC from June 27 to August 2, 2018. The exercise is being led by the United States Navy and is taking place in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California.

  • The Royal Canadian Navy sent over 675 members. The RCN is providing two frigates, one interim Auxiliary Oiler Replenishment ship, and two maritime coastal defence vessels.
  • The Canadian Army sent approximately 170 soldiers. This includes a dismounted Infantry company group from the 2nd Battalion, Royal 22nd Regiment.
  • The Royal Canadian Air Force sent approximately 75 members. The RCAF is providing a CP-140 Maritime Patrol Aircraft and a deployable mission support centre.
  • There is a national command and support team in location. These 42 personnel are providing real life support to the exercise participants.
  • There are also around 120 personnel working in the headquarters and supporting the exercise. This includes senior officers who are working in key positions.

Operation PROJECTION | Global

Operation PROJECTION is the CAF’s ongoing commitment to promoting peace around the world. The CAF is conducting training, exercises, and engagements, and is operating in maritime environments around the world.

On June 12, HMCS Vancouver arrived in Suva, Fiji. This was its last port visit for its deployment. The ship was met by members of the Royal Canadian Navy’s Naval Security Team. The port visit included a work party of 60 volunteers from the ship’s company visiting Homes of Hope to help out with maintenance, landscaping, and painting.

On June 25, HMCS Vancouver completed its participation in Operation PROJECTION Asia-Pacific and sailed to Hawaii to participate in RIMPAC.

On June 4, the first group of aircrew, ground crew, and support personnel from 407 Squadron returned home after a month in Kadena, Japan. They supported an international effort to counter North Korea’s maritime smuggling.

Operation REASSURANCE | Central and Eastern Europe

Operation REASSURANCE is the CAF contribution to NATO assurance and deterrence measures in Central and Eastern Europe.

NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group Latvia (eFP BG LVA)

During the month of June, the eFP BG LVA participated in Exercise SUMMER SHIELD, led by the Latvian National Armed Forces and held in Camp Ādaži, near Riga, as well as Exercise SABER STRIKE, a U.S. Army Europe-led exercise taking place throughout the Baltic Region and in Poland. The Battle Group also continued to take part in community and outreach events around Latvia and rehearse its readiness.

Exercise SUMMER SHIELD focused on integrating combat support and combat capabilities into battalion and brigade-level defense operations. The exercise involved a wide range of capabilities, including artillery, engineering tasks, and anti-tank capabilities. Exercise SABER STRIKE involved approximately half of the eFP BG LVA and had the Latvia Mechanized Brigade deploy across about 80 km of public land ending in an urban defense. This exercise involved approximately 18 000 soldiers from 19 different countries, and was designed to enhance readiness and cooperation between NATO Allies and regional partners.

In mid-June, the Battle Group welcomed the arrival of the contingent from the Czech Republic, with the Slovakian contingent expected to arrive in early July. During June and July, the majority of the contingents will be conducting troop rotations, including Canada.

Maritime Task Force

From May 6 to June 16, 2018, HMCS St. John’s supported NATO’s Operation SEA GUARDIAN in the waters between Cyprus and Syria. During the operation, HMCS St. John’s led a task group of warships in the location, identification, and tracking of air, surface, and subsurface contacts. Together, they built allied maritime situational awareness in the waters adjacent to Syria. This information was shared with allies to enable all manner of operations in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Operation IMPACT | Middle East

Operation IMPACT is the Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) support to the Global Coalition against Daesh in Iraq and Syria.

On June 22, 2018, Brigadier-General Colin Keiver assumed command of Joint Task Force-Iraq from Brigadier-General Andrew Jayne. The ceremony took place in Kuwait. It was presided over by Rear-Admiral Brian Santarpia, Chief of Staff Operations Canadian Joint Operations Command.

As of July 1, 2018, Air Task Force-Iraq has flown 4 367 sorties*:

  •            CC-150T Polaris aerial refueller flew 1 047 sorties. It delivered nearly 60 600 000 pounds of fuel to Coalition aircraft; and
  •            CC-130J Hercules aircraft flew 1 061 sorties. It delivered some 6 188 700 pounds of cargo.

*This total includes 1378 sorties flown by CF-18 Hornets. They flew between October 30, 2014 and February 15, 2016. It also includes 881 sorties flown by a CP-140 Aurora. It flew between October 30, 2014 and December 11, 2017. For security reasons, we do not communicate the number of sorties flown by the CH-146 Griffon helicopters.

One Response

  1. Thank you! Thank you! This work really needs to be done. Just recently I spoke up at a session about a
    Humanities organisation; reminded somebody who works with veterans that they did not need to be vets. The draft ended about 40 years ago.

    And yes, a military parade in DC is a dingbat idea!

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