Some things the Defence Review might consider (3): Aid to the civil power & civil assistance

Thus far, in two posts, I have dealt with 6 of the 11 capabilities I suggested are required for Canada’s national defence.

I suggested that our strategic intelligence gathering system is both sound and well enough organized but I suggested that the defence management system, especially the military C² superstructure needs repair and I said that surveillance and warning and combat forces able to identify and, as necessary, intercept and interdict intruders are necessary ~ not discretionary or negotiable, except, within the bounds of being able to do “just enough,” as to size and shape.

I propose, now, to deal, briefly, with items 7 and 8: aid to the civil power and civil assistance. I will be brief because while both are important and aid to civil power can be the most complex and difficult of all operations, there is not much room to discuss other than the barest principles.

Aid to the civil power

This is a poorly understood but, also, non-discretionary function. Every country that has armed forces must be prepared to use them ~ rarely it is hoped ~ when the civil power, the municipal mayor and police and the provincial attorney general in Canada’s case, demand such aid. And, in our system and laws, that “demanding aid” is what provincial attorneys general can do and the Canadian Armed Forces must respond.  But the response is not just a matter of law: it is, or always should be, a matter that threatens the very fabric of Canadian society and democracy. When the provincial attorney general “calls out” the troops it means that (s)he and the civil police have lost control; they can no longer maintain order and the promise of “peace, order and good government” is in danger of collapse.

Fortunately such situations are, indeed, rare in Canada but we would do well to recall what General John de Chastelain, then Chief of the Defence Staff, said on television during the Oka crisis in 1990: the Canadian Forces, he said, would not fail to restore order because they could not fail. It was not dechastelain-1994meant to be any sort of bravado nor even reassurance for a nervous Canadian population. It was a simple statement of fact: failure was not, never is in “aid to the civil power” operations, an option because in terms of “force’ there is no one after the military. The provincial police may back up the local police force, and the RCMP may back up the provincial police, but when the army is “called out” there is no more “back up;” everything has been used and the army either succeeds or civil government as we know it ceases to function and then we have a Canada that no one wants to imagine. That’s why “aid to the civil power” is non-discretionary.

There is not, and ought not to be, any dedicated force for aid to the civil power nor, beyond absolutely superb discipline, is there any special training for the task. Officers with good judgement and  soldiers who are superbly disciplined are all that are required. Aid to the civil power is, most often, a task that will be assigned to full time, regular force sailors and soldiers.

Civil assistance

Civil assistance is somewhat “easier:” the consequences may be, perhaps, less politically grave, although they are still, very often “life and death.” But the task is always vital to the well being of Canadians …

 … once again there is not much that can be done to prepare for “civil assistance.” There is, normally, no special equipment or training beyond what all good military forces already have.

Civil assistance missions are one area where reservists often outshine their full time, regular force confrères because they have good local knowledge and, often, good contacts in the community. A reserve unit member might, for example, know the fellow who rents this sort of thing …

… and the local reserve unit may even have made a contingency plan, with the local equipment rental company, to get that equipment in an emergency.

mlvwCivil assistance operations often put a great strain on both manpower and logistical equipment such as cargo trucks and the like. The Canadian military, regular and reserve, is short of both, but the shortages of army logistic vehicles is especially troublesome. I have discussed that before in this blog and I will return to it later in this series of posts about the Defence Review, but the humble logistics vehicle is an absolute necessity both in combat operations and when providing assistance to local communities.

As a general rule regular force units can respond more quickly to deal with fire, floods and ice storms and the like but, in the long run, the local reserve soldiers are likely to bear the brunt of many of these “civil assistance” tasks.

Civil assistance tasks are “discretionary,” up to a point … but when disasters strike Canadian expect the military to help out, and soldiers want to help, too.

Next I will deal with a subject ~ expeditionary forces ~ that is discretionary.

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