Domestic Reliance on Canadian Armed Forces for COVID Response Lowers Military Preparedness Against International Threats: Expert Warns
The COVID-19 epidemic has reinforced domestic reliance on the Canadian Armed Forces, which risks lowering Canada’s military readiness against international threats coming from China and Russia.
An expert warned of the unnecessary overtasking of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) during deliberation on the issue of the Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Canadian Armed Forces Operation, during a House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence (NDDN) conference on Nov. 23, which is the third panel discussion on the topic this month.
Christian Leuprecht, a professor in political science at the Royal Military College of Canada, told the committee that deploying armed forces to support domestic long-term care homes is depleting Canadian military resources that used to go into their traditional tasks.
“To ensure domestic mission success … the CAF has to maintain an ongoing level of readiness, with a highly trained, well-educated roster of both specialized-capacity and generalists, and the equipment to support such operations,” said Leuprecht.
“As for the pandemic, since the CAF medical [team] supports its own members, it has to strip its own medical system to backstop external demand from select provinces,” he said.
“Should the CAF now expand its medical capacity? With no new resources, such questions raise the prospect of painful internal trade-offs.”
Under Operation LASER, the CAF’s response programme to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 1,700 troops were deployed to Ontario and Quebec, and another 22,000 CAF members were put on standby.
According to a report Leuprecht published in August 2020, Canada has become more reliant on the CAF for response to domestic emergencies over the past decade. From 2011 and 2020, the CAF participated in 30 missions, compared to six between 1990 and 2010. The CAF took part in 10 weather-related missions between 2017 to 2018, versus 20 between 2007 and 2016, and only 12 such missions between 1996 and 2006.
“The Emergencies Act sets out the overall management structure for federal response, the provinces have primary responsibility, and any federal government backup is to be coordinated through the Minister of Public Safety, who under the Act, is responsible for ordering the Federal Emergency Response Plan,” said Leuprecht.
“Provinces have come to view the CAF as their first resort rather than their last.”
The deployed CAF members were missing out on their usual training, recruitment, and support to operation, which has created major security loop-holes to the advantage of Canada’s international adversaries.
Notably, Leuprecht said Canada is vulnerable to Chinese and Russian cyberattacks, quoting the findings in the recent National Cyber Threat Assessments 2020 report (pdf), published by the Communications Security Establishment.
The Canadian government has, for the first time, identified China to be behind state-sponsored cybercrime targeting Canada in this second biannual report.