Thursday, July 14, 2016

Colombia or Mali? Somewhere Else? Where are Canadian troops headed next?

By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch 

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says the Canadian military will be able to take on a peacekeeping mission despite committing troops to a new and open-ended NATO operation in eastern Europe.

Sajjan said despite other ongoing missions the Canadian Forces has the capacity to do a peacekeeping operation.

“We are gathering information,” Sajjan told reporters during a conference call from Kuwait on Wednesday. “I’ve had certain briefings. We will be moving ahead on this because it’s very important to send a message that Canada will play a responsible role” in the world.

Canada is contributing troops to train Kurds in northern Iraq in their battle against the Islamic State or ISIL. It is also providing additional soldiers to the Iraq mission against ISIL.

In addition, Canada recently announced it would send around 450 soldiers to Latvia as NATO ramps up efforts in eastern Europe to counter what it considers an aggressive Russia. Canada will also keep a warship in the region and contribute fighter jets at different times to that NATO mission.

Those commitments have raised questions whether Canada would have military units available for peacekeeping operations. The Liberal government has promised it would re-establish Canada’s role in such missions after the number of troops committed to the United Nations has dwindled in record low numbers.

Sajjan said Canada must carefully examine where it might want to contribute for such a mission. “We have to have a need for impact,” he explained. “It’s not just about going somewhere.”

There have been suggestions that Canada could contribute to a peace operation in Colombia or in Africa. A mission to Mali has mentioned as a possibility.

Sajjan wouldn’t get into specifics. But he added: “Certain parts of the world haven’t got the right amount of attention and that’s why we’re looking at Africa.”

Sajjan arrived in Iraq early Monday to meet with his Iraqi counterpart Khaled al-Obeidi.

Sajjan’s visit also coincided with a trip to Baghdad by U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter who promised more American soldiers for the ongoing war against the Islamic State.

At the end of the recent NATO summit, Canada announced it would contribute to an alliance program to train Iraqi troops in the disposing of improvised explosive devices.

Sajjan said during his visit he also travelled to northern Iraq to meet Kurdish officials.

Sajjan said he is happy with the progress of the coalition mission against the Islamic State, noting the extremist group has suffered a number of serious setbacks on the battlefield.

But the Islamic State has also launched a new terror campaign, detonating bombs mainly in and around the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.

Last week its attacks killed more than 300 people. Additional suicide attacks continued on Tuesday and Wednesday, claiming at least another 19 lives.

Sajjan said the coalition expected that response because of the setbacks Islamic State has faced. “We expected additional attacks to come,” he explained. “We have prevented quite a few of them as well.”

Canadian army pulls anti-tank missiles out of storage as tensions increase with Russia

By: David Pugliese, The Ottawa Citizen

As tensions increase with Russia, the Canadian military is pulling anti-tank missiles out of storage and will start distributing them to troops next year.

The Canadian Army had sold off most of its tube launched optically sighted wire guided (TOW) missiles and mothballed a few of the anti-tank weapons, assuming they would not be needed in the future.

But with Canada now stationing troops on Russia’s borders, soldiers will require the weapons to counter the Kremlin’s robust armoured forces, military sources say.

Brig.-Gen. Derek Macaulay, chief of staff for army strategy, confirmed the service is re-introducing the tripod-mounted missile system to all regular force infantry battalions.

“Each battalion will receive its complement of systems with all systems being fielded and deployable by summer 2017,” Macaulay said in a statement to the Ottawa Citizen. “We are not purchasing new systems at this time, but rather re-introducing what we had placed into preservation.”

The TOW missiles are designed to destroy armoured vehicles. Although the army has other weapons to deal with such targets, the TOW system is considered among the most effective. Its missile has a range of about 3,700 metres.

NATO has begun preparations for escalating from the Cold War into a hot one.

Courses for training troops on using the TOW system are now underway at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, N.B., the army noted.

Macaulay denied the move was related to the increase in tensions with Russia. The re-introduction of the weapons is “not in response to any external influence” but instead a decision to deal with a gap in a capability that is fundamental to how the army operates, he said.

It is not clear why such missiles were removed from service in the first place if they are so critical to how the army operates.

But the initiative comes as Canada and NATO turn up the heat militarily on Russia, prompting some observers to point out the West has started a new Cold War with the Kremlin.

NATO is establishing a more permanent and extensive troop presence on Russia’s borders and is sending thousands of soldiers to the region.

Canada recently announced it would deploy about 450 soldiers to Latvia as part of those efforts. It will also keep a warship in the region and contribute fighter jets at different times to the NATO mission.

Peggy Mason, a former security adviser to the Mulroney government, says the moves by the Liberals are further provoking an already tense situation.

“What we’re seeing is Justin Trudeau and his government continuing with the most disagreeable aspects of Stephen Harper’s foreign policy,” said Mason, president of the Rideau Institute in Ottawa.

“People didn’t vote for that. They voted for change.”

At the same time the Liberal government has appeared to have turned its back on talks with Russia, she added.

Chris Westdal, a former Canadian diplomat who was ambassador in both Russia and Ukraine, has said six months into his mandate, Global Affairs Minister Stephane Dion has not yet met his Russian counterpart.

The West has taken a hardl ine against Russia, prompted by Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s decision in 2014 to annex Crimea, once part of Ukraine. The Russians claim they acted to protect the predominately Russian-speaking population there. Western nations have also denounced Russia’s military support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

As a result, Western nations, including Canada, brought in economic sanctions against Russia as well as increasing their military presence in the region.

But those actions have only backfired, instead shoring up support for Putin among the Russian people who see NATO as closing in on their country’s borders, Mason argues.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader who helped end the Cold War and who has been of critical of Putin, recently accused NATO of preparing for offensive operations against his country.

“NATO has begun preparations for escalating from the Cold War into a hot one,” he said. “All the rhetoric just yells of a desire almost to declare war on Russia.”

But NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg denies the alliance is a threat to Russia.

“We do not want a new Cold War,” he said. “We do not want a new arms race. And we do not seek confrontation.”

PM won't say if Canada to keep sending troops to Ukraine

By: Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

KYIV, Ukraine -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrapped up his latest overseas travels Tuesday with a visit to western Ukraine, where he will greet the Canadian Forces soldiers who have been training their Ukrainian counterparts since last summer.

Whether those troops will still be there next summer, however, was both an open question and a central issue Monday as Trudeau met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

The previous Conservative government deployed 200 Canadian military trainers to a base near the Ukrainian city of Lviv last year in response to Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

The Canadians, alongside British and American troops, have been teaching the basics of soldiering, such as how to use their weapons and move as a unit, as well as more advanced skills such bomb disposal and medical training.

"We are giving significant support to the Ukrainian military to be able to be more effective in defending and reclaiming Ukrainian territory," Trudeau told a news conference where the two countries announced a new Canada-Ukraine free trade deal.

"We are very happy to be involved in and to be supporting the people of Ukraine."

Trudeau wouldn't say, however, whether the Liberal government -- fresh from committing hundreds of troops to form the core of a NATO battalion in Latvia -- will extend the training mission past its current expiry date in March.

Poroshenko said a professional military is essential for protecting his country's sovereignty and territorial integrity. "I have asked the prime minister to prolong the mandate of the mission," he said through an interpreter.

Asked to respond, Trudeau said Canada would co-ordinate with its international partners and allies on how best to help Ukraine in the future.

"We are right now focused on the training mission that is going so well for both Canadians and especially for the Ukrainian military," he said. "As the situation evolves, we will continue to monitor and look at the best way we can continue to support and help Ukraine."

Trudeau did promise more observers for a mission by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe monitoring ceasefire violations between Ukrainian and Russian-backed separatist forces in the country's east. Canada will increase its complement to the 700-strong OSCE mission from 25 to 50.

Canada will also send more police officers to help train the Ukrainian police.

Russia loomed large as Trudeau met with Poroshenko and other Ukrainian officials throughout the day. Some European allies are impatient that Ukraine is not doing enough to implement its commitments in the Minsk peace deal with the rebels and Russia, but Trudeau pointed the finger at Moscow.

"Russia has not been a positive partner," he said. "They have not been moving responsibly or appropriately on things like ceasefires or international observers."

For his part, Poroshenko said Ukraine has fulfilled 95 per cent of its political obligations and all of its security requirements under the agreement. He went on to accuse Russian "troops and mercenaries" of having launched an attack against Ukrainian positions earlier in the day.

Solidarity was a central theme to Trudeau's visit to Kyiv, where he met with Ukrainian leaders and civil society groups and paid homage to Ukrainians killed in mass atrocities by the Nazis and Soviets in the 20th century, and more recently in the country's 2014 revolution.

A key moment came when Trudeau and Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman visited a memorial to those killed in the Euromaidan, an uprising that ousted the pro-Russian president in the name of democracy. Surrounded by pictures of the dead, the two placed rose bouquets before a wooden cross bearing the image of Jesus before a moment of silence.

A short time later, in a meeting with Ukrainian parliamentarians, Trudeau talked about the importance of fighting for democracy.

"Many of us in the West have gone a long time without having to fight for democracy," he said. "Ukrainians reminded us how important democracy is, and how we can't take it for granted."

In a meeting with Groysman and his cabinet, Trudeau praised the Ukrainian government's progress towards democracy. In meetings with Ukrainian leaders and civil society representatives, however, he also emphasized the importance of championing the hopes and aspirations of average Ukrainians wanting a better future.

"Reforms never happen as quickly as everyone would like," Trudeau told the civil society roundtable session.

"But your job is not to make everything happen overnight, as you well know. Your job is to make sure that everything keeps moving forward as responsibly and as quickly as you can."

Trudeau and his oldest son Xavier also paid their respects to Ukrainians killed in past atrocities. They laid a bouquet of flowers at a memorial to tens of thousands of Ukrainians, many of them Jews, killed by the Nazis in Kyiv during he Second World War.

Can Canada's army do it all: deter Russia and keep the peace?

By: The Canadian Press, CTV News

OTTAWA -- Canada's army has the ability to simultaneously help its NATO allies deter Russia on Europe's eastern border while launching a substantial United Nations peacekeeping mission, top military officials and leading experts say.

The government's decision last week to contribute 450 soldiers, light armoured vehicles and other equipment to Latvia to a 1,000-strong multinational NATO force has raised questions about whether the Canadian Forces can still make good on mounting a major UN peacekeeping mission -- a core foreign policy goal of the Trudeau Liberals.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion insist the answer is yes.

Now, the commander of the army, as well as a leading Canadian peacekeeping expert who is helping to advise the government, are backing up those political assertions.

"We will be able to deliver whatever the government wants us to do," said Lt.-Gen. Marquis Hainse, who turns over command of the army today to Lt.-Gen. Paul Wynnyk.

"There's room to manoeuvre there, to contribute to somewhere else."

Indeed, there's room --but it won't be easy, said Walter Dorn, a professor at the Canadian Forces Staff College in Kingston.

"The NATO commitment puts a strain on the number of forces that are available for UN deployments but I think we can do both," Dorn said.

The benchmark for what's sustainable for a Canadian Forces mission is essentially 3,000 military members deployed abroad at any given time, said Dorn, who cites the fact that a pool of 3,000 was needed for any given rotation to Kandahar in recent years, while a record 3,300 Forces members served in UN peacekeeping missions in the early 1990s.

Canada already has about 400 troops in Ukraine and Poland, and another 800 military personnel in Iraq and Kuwait, drawn mainly from special forces and the air force.

That means Canada could supply up to 1,000 troops to a UN mission and not be stretched too thin, Dorn said.

"Numbers up to 1,000 are sustainable for many years."

Peacekeeping missions, or peace operations as the government now calls them, would likely draw heavily from the regular army.

Hainse said the army is broken into three different brigades of about 5,000 soldiers who rotate through a 36-month training cycle. The training cycle during the Afghanistan war was accelerated to 18 months, he said.

The end of the combat mission in Afghanistan in 2011, as well as budget cuts imposed in more recent years, resulted in the cycle being slowed. While Hainse said he wouldn't want to scale it back any further, he was adamant the army can sustain multiple missions at once.

"There's enough flexibility there to be able to cover a lot," he said.

Sajjan said Wednesday that containing the spread of terrorism across Africa is a consideration as Canada mulls where it will contribute to a UN peacekeeping mission. Sources say Mali, where the French are leading a UN mission that has seen at least 19 peacekeepers killed this year, is one destination that's being carefully considered.

Canada Preparing To Commit Troops To UN Peacekeeping Mission: Source

By: Althia Raj, The Huffington Post

OTTAWA — Canada may soon announce it will commit troops to new peacekeeping missions, The Huffington Post Canada has learned.

A spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion told HuffPost Tuesday the Liberal government wants to “re-energize” Canadian leadership in key areas and in multilateral institutions.

“Canada will increase its support to UN peace operations, extending beyond peacekeeping to include the equally important civilian components of conflict prevention, mediation, and peacebuilding efforts,” said Chantal Gagnon.

Government sources said decisions would be made in the coming months.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion speaks at the NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland on July 9, as Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan listens. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
The United Nations is organizing a meeting in London this September, when pledges will be made and future contributions discussed, a UN spokeswoman told HuffPost.

Over the weekend, the Liberals announced Canada would lead a NATO mission in Latvia to curb Russian aggression and deploy 450 troops, a frigate and up to six CF-18 fighter aircrafts. Dion told The Canadian Press, “It is terribly unfortunate that Canada has to deploy its forces in Latvia instead of having peacekeeping in Africa or in an area of the world where it is much more needed.”

The foreign affairs minister is on a rare vacation and was unavailable for an interview. But his office insisted the new NATO deployment will not prevent the Canadian Armed Forces from participating in new peace and security missions.

“Min. Dion has been clear that we will still implement our renewed peacekeeping strategy and that we've had lots of specific requests from other countries to consider, including in Africa (e.g. CAR [Central African Republic], Mali),” his chief of staff, Julian Ovens, wrote in an email.

Dion’s office would not specify what those requests are, but said they’re currently being evaluated in conjunction with the Department of National Defence.
“... we will welcome additional support, particularly in the areas of training, capacity building, engineering, aviation and medical support. ”
— UN spokeswoman Ismini Palla

The UN said it would welcome additional aid from Canada.

"Peacekeeping is increasingly in need of high-technology assets and specialized skills,” said spokeswoman Ismini Palla.

“While Canada is already contributing to UN Peacekeeping, we will welcome additional support, particularly in the areas of training, capacity building, engineering, aviation and medical support.

“Canada's contribution in this field would be highly beneficial,” she said.
Malian police patrol with the German UN mission in Mali in May. (Photo: Souleymane Ag Anara/AFP/Getty Images)
The two missions cited by Dion’s office are particularly risky.

The UN mission in Mali is the deadliest in the world. Since April 2013, 68 peacekeepers have been killed by what the UN calls “malicious acts.”

In May, five Togolese peacekeepers were killed when their vehicle was ambushed. Days later, a Chinese peacekeeper was killed in a mortar attack on a UN camp. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for that attack. Three people working for a UN subcontractor were also killed that same day in a separate attack.

The UN mission in Central African Republic is also plagued with violence. Last week, the UN’s under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, Hervé Ladsous, told the Security Council that while free elections had been held this winter, the country continues to face “a security climate that remains fragile and reversible.”

More than two million people — or half the population — lack access to food. One-fifth of the nation remains displaced, and armed groups continue to control vast parts of the country, he said. Last month, more than a dozen people were killed, including a Senegalese UN peacekeeper.
Hellen Akello, 38, a victim of the Lira district attacks by members of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) militia movement, displays her injuries during a visit by an International Criminal Court prosecutor in northern Uganda in 2015. (Photo: Edward Echwalu/Reuters)
Outside the capital in the country’s southeast, the Lord’s Resistance Army continues to murder, abduct, force sex-slavery and recruit child soldiers, said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein in a July news release.

More than 290 people were abducted between January and April, including 60 children, he said.

Zeid also raised concerns that the Ugandan army deployed to help the country is engaged in “credible” allegations of sexual abuse, exploitation, abduction, forced marriages and rape.

’Effective and targeted contributions’

Gagnon said Global Affairs Canada — the foreign affairs department — was exploring different ways to engage in peacebuilding, such as new training initiatives. In addition to talks with National Defence, the department is consulting with the UN, the RCMP, Public Safety, and Canadian experts, she said.

The government is assessing its own abilities in light of the UN’s needs and wants to provide “effective and targeted contributions,” Gagnon added.

The Liberals are also looking to promote the equality of women and men, and would like to increase the number of female peacekeepers and advisors, she said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at the United Nations headquarters in New York in April. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
Canada is eager to contribute more to UN peacekeeping efforts, in part because of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s commitment to the organization, and thegovernment’s stated desire to win a Security Council seat in 2021.

Speaking in March at the UN, Trudeau pledged to revitalize Canada's historic role as a key contributor to United Nations peacekeeping. "Canada will increase its engagement with peace operations, not just by making available our military, police, and specialized expertise, but also by supporting the civilian institutions that prevent conflict, bring stability to fragile states, and help societies recover in the aftermath of crisis,” he said.

“Canada would be very welcomed back in peacekeeping.”

The United Nations currently has 16 peacekeeping operations, including nine in Africa.

Of the approximately 1,100 Canadian Armed Forces members deployed in operations around the world, only 31 are working in UN peacekeeping operations, ranging from 12 in South Sudan to one lone member in Cyprus.

An additional 84 civilian Canadians are part of peacekeeping missions around the world, according to Global Affairs Canada.

Bilingual advantage

In February, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Ladsous met with Canadian officials in Ottawa.

“They conveyed the message that Canada would be very welcomed back in peacekeeping,” Palla told HuffPost.

“Our pitch with Canada was also that they can also offer excellent bilingual personnel, in French and English, which is also very important to our peacekeeping operations because half of them are in francophone places,” she said.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits Canadian troops in Ukraine

By: Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

LVIV, Ukraine — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked Canadian soldiers on Tuesday for their role in training the Ukrainian army, before getting a demonstration of their work firsthand.

Speaking to some of the 200 soldiers who have been based near the western city of Lviv since January, Trudeau emphasized the importance of continuing to support Ukraine in its struggle with Russia.

"It has been a long time since Canada had to defend our valour and defend our territory," he said in French to the soldiers, who are members of the Valcartier-based Royal 22e Regiment, better known as the Vandoos. "But we need to continue to work with those who are fighting for democracy and their territorial integrity. It is essential."

Trudeau didn't say anything, however, about whether the training mission will be extended. It is due to end next March, though Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko made a personal request to Trudeau on Monday to extend it.

The previous Conservative government sent the Canadian military trainers to Ukraine last year in response to Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

The Canadians, alongside British and American troops, have been teaching the Ukrainian army the basics of soldiering, such as how to use weapons and move as a unit, as well as more advanced skills such bomb disposal and medical training.

"You are really a source of extraordinary pride for all Canadians," Trudeau said. "And this is an opportunity for me to thank you in person."

After speaking to the troops, Trudeau was joined by his son Xavier and defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance to watch a military exercise involving a group of Canadian and Ukrainian soldiers.

As the Trudeaus and Vance watched through binoculars, a Soviet-era armoured personnel carrier led the soldiers toward a wooden building. The air shook as its cannon fired several rounds in quick succession.

The troops then moved away from the vehicle and spread out in a line facing the building. Four Canadians followed close behind as the eight Ukrainians slowly closed on the building, firing all the way, before placing an explosive inside and setting it off.

The exercise was designed to show how Canadian troops have been helping bring the Ukrainians up to a level where they can push back against Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.

It came at the end of a six-day trip through Eastern Europe for Trudeau in which Russia loomed large.

Trudeau flies home from Lviv later today after having pledged troops to Latvia while attending the NATO summit in Poland, paying an emotional visit to the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, and signing a free trade agreement in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv.

Sajjan discusses fight against ISIL with counterparts in Baghdad; Possible Additional Canadian Trainers

By: The Canadian Press 

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan met with his Iraqi and Kurdistan counterparts in Baghdad on Monday to discuss Canada's ongoing contribution to the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Jordan Owens, a spokeswoman for the minister, said Sajjan arrived in Iraq after attending the recent NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland.

She said U.S. Defence Secretary Ashton Carter was also in Iraq, but that he and Sajjan were not together.

Owens said she could not provide details of Sajjan's discussions, adding the minister will discuss his visit later in a telephone conference call with the media.

The Liberal government announced in May that it was expanding its contribution to the fight against ISIL to include three CH-146 Griffon helicopters, an intelligence centre and additional trainers to what is called Operation IMPACT.

It said that would triple the size of Canada's mission to train, advise and help Iraqi security forces plan and conduct military operations against ISIL.

Sajjan will return to Canada on Thursday.

Additional Content by: David Pugliese,

Sajjan’s visit also coincided with a trip to Baghdad by U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

At the end of the recent NATO summit, Canada announced it would contribute to an alliance program to train Iraqi troops in disposing of improvised explosive devices.

But at the time Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not offer any details about the mission, such as numbers of personnel, duration of their mission, and where they would be operating in Iraq. “The fact is from the beginning we have always talked about the broad range of activities we can do in support of the local troops,” Trudeau told reporters.

The Kuwait News Agency, citing Iraqi officials, reported that Canada will be providing military engineers as part of the training package.

NATO has been training Iraqi personnel in counter-IED operations at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Centre in Amman, Jordan. NATO is also providing “train the trainer” instruction, enabling the officers to build the professionalism of the Iraqi forces by sharing their new skills with colleagues with the support of the NATO Counter Improvised Explosive Devices Centre of Excellence, the alliance added in an earlier news release.

At the request of the Iraqi government, NATO is now assessing the possibility of conducting training inside Iraq as well, NATO pointed out.

Canadian Tactical Gear used by Saudi Security Forces in deadly house raid

By: Steven Chase, The Globe and Mail

Canadian-made tactical equipment that helps authorities blast their way into buildings has surfaced in Saudi Arabia at the scene of a violent house raid by government security forces in late June that left one man dead in a region home to the country’s oppressed Shia minority.

It is another example of how Canadian-made military, security and tactical gear sold to the Saudi regime can be used in circumstances well beyond Ottawa’s control and during raids that some believe are attacks on dissidents. The Trudeau government in April approved export permits to supply Riyadh with combat vehicles made in London, Ont., a deal that has been sharply criticized by human-rights activists.

The house raid on June 22 took place in the Qatif region of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, where the largest concentration of Shiites live in a country ruled by an overwhelming Sunni majority. Rights groups regularly report on how Shiites face major discrimination in Saudi Arabia, where they only make up 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the population. Shiites chafe at this second-class status, making Qatif a hotbed of opposition and trouble for the reigning House of Saud.

On the night of June 22, Saudi security forces stormed a Shiite-owned house in the town of al-Awamiyah. A man named Abdul-Rahim al-Faraj died as a result of gunshots, Saudi-based media reported. Authorities said in a statement, as they often do in similar cases in Eastern Province, that they only fired their weapons after being fired upon and that the deceased and one of his brothers were wanted for “terrorist crimes.”

After security forces departed, local residents found explosive breaching equipment with “Made in Canada” stamped on it at the targeted house in al-Awamiya, according to the European-Saudi Organization for Human Rights. The residents say the gear, which had been blown apart, was used by Saudi forces to blast their way through a gate that provided access to the house.

The black plastic equipment’s label and model number obtained at the scene correspond to gear produced by Gryphon Engineering Services of Ottawa that allows military or law enforcement to quickly force their way into a building.

The Canadian company places restrictions on the sale of this gear on its website, saying this product “is only available for government use.” This specially designed “entry frame” breaching equipment, patented by Gryphon, is designed to be lined with explosive and filled with water – which helps direct the ensuing blast into a structure.

Gryphon Engineering Services did not respond to e-mails from The Globe and Mail. A man who answered the door at the company’s east-end Ottawa office said the company has no comment.

Ottawa doesn’t control or track the use of this type of tactical equipment overseas.

Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher with Human Rights Watch, said Saudi Arabian authorities over the past half-decade have taken to framing all Shia protesters and dissidents as terrorists. “That’s definitely a trend we’ve seen over the last four to five years.”

A fundamental tenet of Canadian export-control policy is the question of whether goods sold to foreign customers might be used to commit human-rights violations. If products shipped abroad are being used for this purpose – or present a high risk of enabling human-rights violations – a country is supposed to block or cease these transactions.

Mr. Coogle said Canadians should be specifically worried about this in relation to sales of tactical and military equipment to Saudi Arabian government forces.

“I think this absolutely meets that standard” of warranted concern, Mr. Coogle said of sales of breaching equipment to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is Canada’s biggest overseas arms buyer, thanks to a $15-billion deal struck by Ottawa to sell weaponized armoured vehicles made by General Dynamics Land Systems Canada to Riyadh. The Liberal government has taken heavy criticism for its decision to stick with the contract and for approving the bulk of the exports in this deal despite what watchdogs such as Amnesty International say has been an eroding state of human rights in Saudi Arabia.

Similar raids to the one on June 22 in Qatif happen on a regular basis, often resulting in the deaths of Shia residents.

As with past incidents, the Saudi government explained the June 22 incident by saying that Mr. al-Faraj died because Saudi forces were fired upon while trying to search the dwelling. In a statement, the Saudi Ministry of the Interior alleged he and his brother were “involved in a number of terrorist crimes” including “shooting at security forces” and “armed robbery.”

The Saudis frequently cite terror threats when they go after the area’s dissidents, some of whom are more militant than others.

Shia activists say local police had three times summoned Mr. al-Faraj to the local police station for questioning about the whereabouts of one of his brothers.

Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion’s office referred questions about Canadian exports of this explosive breaching equipment to civil servants in the Department of Global Affairs. The “items are neither explosives nor arms,” said Diana Khaddaj, a spokeswoman for Global Affairs.

She said Ottawa does not monitor or restrict exports of this specialized breaching equipment because it is not sold with explosives loaded in it.

Human-rights groups have already called on Western countries to stop selling military equipment to Saudi Arabia given its bloody intervention in a civil war in neighbouring Yemen. A United Nations panel has alleged that Riyadh has violated international humanitarian law for indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Yemen.

Mr. Coogle, however, said the Saudis’ treatment of their own people, and in particular minority groups, should be a major red flag for exports. “These domestic policing actions – there are real concerns as to whether the Saudis engage in excessive use of force and there’s also concern about the people they target in these raids – whether they are actually perpetrators of violence or not because the Saudi justice system is so unfair, people don’t get a fair hearing and we never really know what the truth is.”

Mr. Coogle said he has analyzed eight full Saudi trials of people who were involved in Eastern Province uprisings and protest-related activities. “Every case I read, and the way the trial process occurred, was absolutely ludicrous,” he said.

“They don’t even make an attempt at due process. They basically arrest them, torture until they sign a confession.”

The arrest, and ultimate execution, of Shia cleric Sheik Nimr al-Nimr in January has further inflamed tensions between Qatif and Riyadh. An outspoken critic of the House of Saud who called for its removal, he supported anti-government protests in Eastern Province.

His trial and sentencing – for disobeying the ruler, inciting sectarian strife and encouraging, leading and participating in demonstrations – reignited criticism of Saudi Arabia’s justice system.

Human Rights Watch, citing figures from local activists, estimated recently that more than 200 people from Shia-majority towns and villages in Eastern Province have gone to trial for alleged protest-related crimes since 2011.

In May, The Globe and Mail published footage from Shia activists in Qatif showing Riyadh’s forces using armoured vehicles against civilians. The vehicles that were deployed are not Canadian-made, but they demonstrate the Saudis’ proclivity to use such machines against their people.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Canada Still Planning UN Peacekeeping Mission Despite Europe Commitment

By: Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

WARSAW, Poland — The Trudeau government says Canada is still in the market for a United Nations peacekeeping mission despite plans to send a sizeable military contingent to Eastern Europe.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis at the NATO leaders' summit in Warsaw on Saturday to discuss plans for Canada to send 450 soldiers to the Baltic state. The Canadians will form the "nucleus" of a larger NATO force in response to concerns about Russia.

Trudeau and Vejonis exchanged pleasantries before the Latvian president offered to organize a hockey game between Canadian and Latvian soldiers. "You might regret that. We're quite good," Trudeau laughed in reply, before adding: "But I know you are too."

Joking aside, the deployment along with plans to continue operating a naval frigate in the region and send fighter jets on an occasional basis, represents the largest military commitment to Europe for Canada in more than a decade, Trudeau said. At the same time, Canada has hundreds of military trainers in Ukraine and Iraq.

"It's terribly unfortunate that Canada has to deploy its forces in Latvia instead of having peacekeeping in Africa or in an area of the world where it's much more needed," Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion told the Canadian Press on the sidelines of the summit Saturday.

"But we need to do so. We need to do so because Russia had a completely unacceptable behaviour, regarding especially Ukraine."

Yet both Dion and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the Liberal government is intent on finding a peacekeeping mission for Canada. Sajjan said Canada can't just respond to crises but must look at situations where it can help reduce or prevent conflict.

"We are receiving requests from everywhere," Dion added. "If we are saying yes to everybody, we'd have a big problem. We'll need to be very selective and to choose the way where Canada will have value added within the coalitions in which we are."

Sajjan the Canadian military has the resources to participate in a peacekeeping mission while also deploying forces to Europe and Iraq.

DND: Canada’s CF-18s can fly into next decade

By: Daniel Leblanc, Globe and Mail

The Department of National Defence predicts that its fleet of CF-18s will be able to fly into the next decade, even as Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan ramps up his calls for an urgent purchase of new fighter jets to ward off an eventual “capability loss.”

“Some aircraft could begin to be retired beginning in 2023,” said a document provided last week to the five aircraft manufacturers in the race to offer new fighter jets.

A Canadian CF-18 fighter takes off from CFB Trenton in Trenton. Ont. Thursday October 11, 2001. (KEVIN FRAYER/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Over all, the Canadian Armed Forces are working to “extend the fleet to 2025” as part of a series of upgrades, said the document, which was also provided to The Globe and Mail.

As he announced a two-month-long consultation with the defence industry last week, Mr. Sajjan doubled down on talk of a disparity between the current availability of the CF-18 fleet and Canada’s commitments to NORAD and NATO.

“I can’t be any more clear. A capability gap will lead to a capability loss if we do not address it,” Mr. Sajjan told reporters.

He added that the Canadian Forces have adopted a risk-management strategy to deal with the scarcity of available aircraft, and he wants to put an end to the practice. Because of maintenance issues, he said, only about half the fleet of 77 fighter jets is available at any given time.

“The previous government has found it acceptable; I do not,” Mr. Sajjan said.

Still, critics and experts are raising the possibility that the Liberal government is trying to justify a future purchase of Boeing Super Hornets – an aircraft currently flying primarily with the U.S. Navy – instead of the brand-new Lockheed-Martin F-35 that was favoured by the previous Conservative government.

Military analyst David Perry said the government’s talk of a capability gap came “out of the blue,” and seems related to the Liberals’ election promise not to buy F-35s. “It’s pretty hard to divorce the politics of this from the actual operational requirements,” said Mr. Perry, a defence analyst with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Conservative MP James Bezan said the government seems to be looking for a way to fulfill its promise to buy an aircraft other than the F-35. “This is about setting the narrative to go to a sole-source [acquisition of Super Hornets],” he said.

Mr. Bezan said the government could simply launch an open competition and quickly obtain the best product for the Canadian Forces at the best price for taxpayers.

“There’s no question that planes are available,” he said, explaining that both Super Hornets and F-35s are currently in production. “They can go through this very methodically and still come to the right decision, rather than try to rig the process.”

Asked to expand on the capability gap, Mr. Sajjan’s office said the 2023 timeline for the retirement of the first aircraft “doesn’t take into consideration any of the issues that could come up with our fleet,” such as crashes, being used for parts, or other commitments for deployment to NATO or peacekeeping missions that would add flying hours.

The government sent a 38-page questionnaire last week to five aircraft manufacturers that are in the running to replace the CF-18s: Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Saab, Dassault and Eurofighter.

Ottawa is seeking a wide range of information from the firms by the end of July in order to design an acquisition process that will be unveiled as early as September. The questions include acquisition and life-cycle costs, current and planned production numbers, and potential industrial and technological benefits for Canada.

The government is also asking the various manufacturers how their aircraft would perform on a series of missions, such as flying from the fighter base in Cold Lake, Alta., to Inuvik, NWT, about 2,000 kilometres to the north.

The introduction to the questionnaire states that the government has not decided on a future course of action. “All procurement options are being considered,” the document said.