Comment and Articles

As an advocate of discussion and debate of Canadian defence and foreign policy, RUSI Vancouver will share opinions and observations from academia, the media, and respected historians. The result is the new ‘Comment’ category that will provide this service to our members.

For now, the new category is not available for feedback to the website on published topics.

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Legion responds to Prime Minister’s Comments at Edmonton Town Hall

February 6, 2018

In a Town Hall recently in Edmonton, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau angered many in the Veteran community when he responded that the Canadian government is still fighting ‘certain Veterans groups’ in court because “they are asking for more than we are able to give right now.”

These sorts of words are extremely insensitive to Canada’s Veterans and reinforce a message that the government does not have an obligation to take care of Canada’s ill and injured Veterans - and that Canada cannot afford it. Why then, do we continue to send our forces into harm’s way if we are not willing to - or cannot - help them adequately upon return? This is inexcusable.

In the Town Hall, the Prime Minister said the revised New Veterans Charter – or Pension for Life plan - goes beyond what was offered in the Pension Act, and offers services, rehabilitation and supports to improve quality of life for the Veteran and their families and caregivers. He also clarified that the government “cannot return to the amount of money that was given before (through the Pension Act) without accounting for the money invested (in the New Veterans Charter) in services for Veterans.”

The government’s plan for a tax-free pain and suffering award for Veterans is promising, but based on the limited details of the plan released to date, the Royal Canadian Legion strongly believes there are still areas for improvement. The plan must include definitive financial support, along with compensation in the form of services and benefits – which together would equal what was offered in the original Pension Act. In addition, the most seriously ill and injured Veterans who cannot generate a comparable income, must receive lifelong financial security.

The Royal Canadian Legion is hearing from Veterans who want and need better communication and direction in terms of what the future actually holds for them under this new plan. The Legion has long advocated for care, benefits and lifelong financial security for ill and injured Veterans. It is well past time for this government to be very clear with all Canadians about its plans to meet our Veterans' needs, permanently.

While there have been and always will be financial considerations, we firmly believe that meeting our Veterans’ needs is fundamental to our foundation and freedom. When asked to risk their lives and futures, our Veterans do so without hesitation. In return for their sacrifices, we must support them without hesitation and not use money as the main excuse for gaps in their care and benefits.

We reiterate that the whole of government must, without reserve, reaffirm its social contract and honour its obligation to provide for the men and women who are injured in the service of Canada.

Canadian veterans' graves marked in California

Legion Magazine

November-December, 2017

By Cameron Cathcart

Western US. Zone executive members (from left) Douglas Lock, Charles Brechin and Robert Edmonds
stand by the cenotaph at Inglewood Park Cemetery.

Strolling through the Inglewood Park Cemetery east of Los Angeles in 2003, Charles Brechin, then the president of the California Branch of The Royal Canadian Legion in Vista, California, struck up a conversation with a cemetery groundskeeper. He was told that “about six” Canadian veterans were buried nearby in unmarked graves.

Brechin asked for a list of veterans in unmarked graves, but the cemetery administration was unable to provide one. Then, in 2009, Western U.S. Zone Secretary Douglas Lock, at Brechin’s request, renewed the challenge of securing the list.

Lock was determined to get the task completed and soon a cemetery employee, Joan Francis, was assigned and the search for names began. By the following year, a list of 202 names was available. Further investigation by Legion members raised the total to 227 unmarked graves of British and Canadian veterans from the First World War and the Second World War dating from 1923. The executive was astounded at the number and felt it was essential that the veterans’ resting places be identified.

However, funds for more than 200 individual markers far exceeded the financial resources of the zone. Instead, the zone thought that a single plaque to honour all those resting in unmarked graves would be appropriate.

Many Commonwealth veterans moved to California after the First World War, attracted by the weather and well-paying jobs. Another wave of veterans came after the Second World War, when there was plenty of work in aircraft plants and shipbuilding yards. The U.S. economy was booming and many Canadians settled there and raised families. British veterans came to escape continued Wartime rationing and a struggling economy.

While working on wording for the plaque, Lock connected with the Last Post Fund in Canada. In 2011, the Last Post Fund began working with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to help verify names and service records of the Canadians buried in unmarked graves at the cemetery. The Last Post Fund, a charitable organization created to ensure that veterans have a dignified burial and marker, will erect headstones for Canadian veterans whose graves have been unmarked for more than five years.

This work continued and in 2014 the ordering of headstones began. During the following year, the first group were set in place. In total, 124 Canadian veterans buried at the cemetery now have marked graves. Some of the ground-level stones include several names, as the ashes are buried together in one plot.

One newly marked grave is that of David Stewart, who served with the 37th Artillery Battalion in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the First World War. His grand-daughter, Sharon Shambaugh, knew where he was buried but his name was not included on an existing marker. Unable to modify that marker, the Last Post Fund had a new stone installed that includes Stewart’s name. Shambaugh attended the 2017 Memorial Day ceremony and saw that her grandfather’s grave is now marked.

One hundred unmarked graves remain at Inglewood Park Cemetery. Still to be honoured are about 70 British veterans because no organization like the Last Post Fund exists in Britain. If a British group does not step forward, a plaque honouring all British veterans buried in unmarked graves at the cemetery will be erected.

Western U.S. Zone Commander Robert Edmonds has been involved with the veterans’ section at Inglewood Park Cemetery since 2003, when Britain handed over management of its veterans' graves to the Legion's Western U.S. Zone. Britain had purchased cemetery plots in the 1920s and '30s for veterans’ use, a project formerly managed by Britain’s consular office in Los Angeles. Today, Edmonds continues to authorize interment of Canadian and British veterans at Inglewood.

“Well over a year ago, on September 19, 2016 to be exact, I had the honour to direct the ceremony for the official opening of the 42-million dollar Lt. Colonel Bertram M. Hoffmiester Building, located directly behind the Seaforth Armoury on 2nd Avenue, east of Burrard.

"The long-awaited future home of 39 Canadian Brigade Group, along with 12 other DHD related organizations that will occupy the HQ building, including five reserve army units, was finally opened with a symbolic cutting of the ribbon by the Hon. Harjit Sajjan, Minister of National Defence. Everyone was happy.

"Now, more than a year later, the Hoffmiester Building remains empty, save for a few security people, while 39 CBG continues to occupy the creaky main HQ building at Jericho Garrison on West 4th Avenue, erected in 1942 as an RCAF HQ and taken over by the Canadian Army soon afterwards. That was 75 years ago!

"The following article by Daphne Bramham in the Vancouver Sun (August 18, 2017) outlines the delay and the explanations being offered by DND. But the delays in our military infrastructure have a common trait because the Hoffmiester Building is not alone: the new DND HQ in Ottawa is also outrageously late on delivery.”

Cam Cathcart
President - RUSI Vancouver

Daphne Bramham: DND building sits empty nearly a year after its official 'opening'

Vancouver Sun

By Daphne Bramham

Published on: August 18, 2017

The empty defence building in the 1700-block of West 1st in Vancouver.
Francis Georgian / PNG

The $42-million B.C. headquarters for the Department of National Defence was officially opened by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan last September on the same day that the Seaforth Highlanders marched back into their renovated armoury.

The new building was named for Lt.-Col. Bertram M. Hoffmeister who led troops in Sicily during the Second World War and commanded Canadian forces in the Pacific against Japan.

Yet, nearly a year after the official opening, the four-storey headquarters remains empty. Sure, there’s a nice plaque on it, but most days, the gates are locked with a weathered and curled notice advising who to call regarding security.

There was a single car in the attached parkade on Wednesday. The gate was ajar. A woman swept fallen leaves from the building’s entrance, while a man watered the parched plants.

DND’s best estimate for a move-in date is still months away — “early 2018, if not sooner,” according to a spokesperson. Assuming that the defence department keeps to that deadline, that will make it five years since construction began on the building that will eventually house 13 different units and organizations.

Construction deficiencies meant that DND didn’t get an occupation permit until April 2017.

There is still “an issue” with the telephones and network connectivity, which Shared Services Canada is supposed to be providing.

Secure filing cabinets being sourced through Public Services and Procurement Canada have yet to be delivered.

And the Department of National Defence itself has yet to provide the needed radio frequency and satellite-based communications equipment.

So what are all these delays costing?

“There have been no costs paid under the construction contract for any delays experienced during the construction. No comment can be provided on potential future costs resulting from delays experienced,” spokesperson Jessica Lamirande said in an email.

She went on to say: “The contracts that Defence Construction Canada puts in place on behalf of the Department of National Defence are rigorously managed for contractor performance.”

Among those waiting to move are: the 39 Canadian Brigade Group Headquarters; 744 Communications Regiment; 12 Field Ambulance; 4 Platoon 6 Intelligence Company; the 15th Field Regiment (Royal Canadian Artillery) Band; and elements of 742 Signals Squadron.

Also waiting are: National Defence Quality Assurance Region Vancouver, the Defence Construction Canada office, the Joint Personnel Support Centre/Integrated Personnel Support Centre, Land Forces Western Area Detachment, elements of Area Support Unit Chilliwack, the Military Family Resource Centre, the employees of medical and dental clinics.

Sajjan’s press secretary Jordan Owens said the minister wasn’t available to comment, so it’s not clear why there was a rush to officially open the building a year ago.

Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan at CFB Trenton in June 8.

Maybe it was just a coincidence, but the nice plaque was unveiled only a few weeks after DND admitted that its new, $1-billion headquarters in Ottawa falls short of the highest levels of security required by Canada’s international intelligence allies.

Problems and delays have plagued DND’s renovation of the former Nortel campus in Ottawa. The building was supposed to have been occupied by 2014. DND then said that the move would be postponed and the first 3,400 of 8,500 employees would be in by April 2016. But by April 2017, fewer than 1,000 were installed in their new digs.

In July, Postmedia’s David Pugliese reported that the cost of a planned move of the counterterrorism unit to Trenton, Ont. from Ottawa has tripled to $1.2 billion.

Referring to the Vancouver delays, Lamirande pointed out that “standing up a brand new defence establishment designed to accommodate 13 distinct units and organizations within the boundaries of an urban municipality is a complex endeavor” that is only part of a larger, overall project.

That might well be so, and even excusable if Vancouver were a one-off. But it’s not.

Our military establishment really hasn’t been up to the task.

Perhaps the mess is now being cleaned up. Perhaps Sajjan and the Liberal government is bringing more rigour to its procurement and planning processes.

We all better hope so because in June the government announced the largest single defence spending increase since the Second World War. Capital spending will jump by $47.2 billion to $164 billion over the next 20 years, with most of that spent on warships and fighter jets.

One can’t help asking: If DND, Public Services Canada and Shared Services Canada can’t even manage to get phones, filing cabinets and computer networking in place on land in a purpose-built facility, how on Earth will they manage to get the more complicated stuff for the air and sea done on time and on budget?

The Defence Policy Review

A Positive but Minimal Effort

By Keith Maxwell, OMM, CD Colonel (retired)

Vice-President, RUSI Vancouver

I will start with the bottom line – the Defence Policy Review (DPR) goes in the right direction with many – even most – of the minimal requirements included for procurement, upgrade or enhancement for the Canadian Forces. But it’s a minimal effort given the state of the world and alliance politics right now. It’s the least the government can undertake without further damaging our reputation with our allies after freeloading so egregiously over the past four decades.

I am not concerned about the timelines or affordability. Under modern accounting methodologies the expenditures show up on the books with some delay as they are capability, not expenditure, oriented. The package is affordable by any measure – it will just take the political will to implement.

I am concerned about the need for cross party, non-partisan support for this initiative: here is where Canadians could look to our Australian friends to adopt a practical way forward. National defence is not a fruitful or helpful area for political bickering – the opposition should support this and recommend enhancements rather than use it as a political tool for the partisan fight. Given its past record, the party currently in power would be playing the same awful games if they were in opposition. There was once a time when there was a broad consensus and significant cooperation around national defence in Canada. Our political establishment needs to grow up and take a mature approach to defending our nation.

Our service women and men do a great job and the CF stands up to pretty much every commitment we undertake to our allies and friends in peacetime and in crisis. Where we fall is in providing a sustained and credible contribution to conventional force deterrence. While deterrence is, perhaps, the least visible role of an alliance, it is also the most important. Force structure, numbers, sustainability, depth, able to deploy and the timely fielding of the ever-important technological advantage are the areas where we have gone astray.

The DPR will put us about half way between our current woeful contribution to alliance and global security, and what we should be spending on defence to give us a well-rounded, robust and sustainable force.

In concrete terms, what’s missing?

It is true, 88 fighters are better than 65, but not enough. We should be buying about the same numbers as Australia – 120 would be a good figure. While 88 fighters would satisfy our current NORAD and NATO commitments, those commitments represent the minimal effort status quo we’ve maintained for way too long. It’s time for Canada to start pulling its weight.

The government is still playing political games with the CF-18 replacement. As so many allies have discovered, there is no reasonable alternative to the F-35. Most of NATO is going there and more will follow. The next to join the procurement is likely to be Germany. If we buy a fourth generation fighter – even the most technologically advanced one - we will become a second class air force unable to operate in contested airspace. Our contribution to deterrence in this area will be diminished irreparably. The difference between fourth and fifth generation is even greater than that it was between third and fourth generation. Those of us who lived through that process saw the entire fighter inventory become obsolescent in a matter of a very few years. It would be unfortunate indeed if the RCAF were to become a marginally effective tactical air force because of an ill-advised election promise made by a group of poorly informed politicians gearing up for a partisan fight. All of the expert military advice to the government has been to procure the F-35 and it will win any free and open competitive bid, provided the requirements are not skewed by politics.

There has been much criticism of the F-35 in the media – it is the most sophisticated weapon system in the world and has had growing pains – that’s not unusual. The USAF has now declared the system operational; if anyone thinks that the F-35 will not emerge in the end as the best combat aircraft in the world, they don’t understand the US Defence Department or the USAF and USN. They will make this work and work well. Cost has also been in the press. In fact, the fly-away cost per aircraft for the F-35 is only slightly higher than for the most modern F-18E Super Hornet. That modest increase in cost would buy Canada an enormous increase in capability. Again, it is time to pack up the politics and get on with equipping the Canadian Forces for success.

Maintaining a fleet of 15 major surface combatant warships is the minimum for a viable blue-water navy. It is important that the government resist budgetary pressures to lower that number. Over the past quarter century, the Royal Canadian Navy has supported operational commitments around the world. Moreover, we are a maritime nation reliant on maritime access and control. This is an important core capability for Canada.

Keeping our four Victoria class submarines is good, but a very minimal effort. We need a fleet double that size to provide a realistic contribution in two oceans. The fleet should be expanded with a replacement program before the current submarines come to the end of their design life.

There is no hint of armed helicopters in the review; that is a significant omission and capability gap. It is particularly important to have them for escort and protection of helicopters transporting troops into uncertain and opposed terrain. They are also critical for combat search and rescue. We have no capability in that area now. We had to rely on allies to provide armed escort in Afghanistan; it should be a core capability in the CF. Armed helicopters are not particularly expensive and are a great added value for air mobile operations, particularly in low intensity conflict. And low intensity operations, like we are now carrying out in Iraq, are the future.

Our Griffon helicopters need replacing and that is not a specific item in the review, though it may be covered by “other upgrades and replacements.” We need more, and more capable rotary wing airlift at that level. The Griffon was under-specified and was a compromise system in the first place. We need a mixed fleet of medium and heavy airlift helicopters in larger numbers and with more capability than we have now.

The government has, once again, backed away from Ballistic Missile Defence. This is a position of weakness and it is hypocritical – Canada is already party to NATO area missile defence in Europe – why not North America? We should now be participating in North American missile defence in cooperation with the US. If that were to happen the mission would switch from a US unilateral command structure to NORAD. Canadians would then have influence and make a significant contribution in this aspect of continental defence. Given the madness of North Korea and other emerging intercontinental threats, missile defence is a crucial mission in which we must participate. The Americans would be very happy to have us. Canada has much to offer in this regard – particularly geography. Our prime contributions would likely be manpower in a number of locations around the continent and installation of a missile warning radar site in eastern Canada – probably in Labrador. It’s the ideal location to deploy such a capability and would fill a gap in coverage. Unfortunately, the government has, once again, bowed to uninformed and dogmatic political correctness by those who are naive enough to believe that defence of the homeland is somehow a provocation.

Canada made a very big mistake six years ago when the Harper government decided to withdraw from the NATO Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) program as a "cost saving" measure. Canada had been the third largest contributor to the program and immediately lost all influence in the area of alliance air command and control. AWACS is now the key to the air deterrence operations in the Baltic and the Romanian area. It was a very bad mistake that needs to be corrected. The DPR should have included a pathway to re-enter the NATO program and partake in the upgrade/replacement program just getting underway.

Alternately, Canada should consider a stand-alone AWACS capability, similar to the capabilities of Australia, the UK or France. Other nations have the capability as well, and many of those nations are much smaller than Canada with a more narrow air surveillance focus. There are a number of good systems on the market that are much less expensive than the older systems. It would make a great contribution to both NORAD and NATO and would give Canada an independent air surveillance capability for the northern and coastal approaches to Canada.

All of these deficiencies could easily be accommodated if Canada were to increase the funding commitment to 1.8 or 1.9 percent of GDP. Instead we are making the smallest increase we can get away with internationally without further degrading our not-so-pristine record on collective defence.

We could do better – in fact, Canadians deserve much better.

Joining the Canadian Army Militia in 1968, Colonel (Ret’d) Keith Maxwell subsequently served as an armoured crewman, infantryman, infantry officer and later, air weapons control officer, for more than 30 years. He spent most of his career in tactical air operations and related duties including tactics development, requirements and technology procurement.

Col Maxwell served outside Canada for 27 years, including 11 years in NORAD and 16 years in NATO. During that time, he was assigned to several multinational air command and control facilities and headquarters and served as an AWACS Mission Commander and Air Battle Commander for seven years.

Col Maxwell has a History degree from the University of Manitoba and is a graduate of the Canadian Forces Staff School, the US Air Force Air War College and the Canadian Forces Senior Defence and Security Studies Program. He was appointed as an Officer in the Order of Military Merit (OMM) in 1989 while serving at Alaskan NORAD Region. Col Maxwell is Vice-president of RUSI Vancouver.


World War I from the journal of Captain Fred G. Coxen RFA (Royal Field Artillery)

From the PREFACE:

"My purpose for writing this book was to honor my grandfather by telling his story. In addition I wanted to impart to the reader the experiences, as well as the conditions of war, and what it was like trying to survive each day.

"The story is based on the World War 1 journal written by Captain Frederick G. Coxen, who served in the Royal Field Artillery (RFA) and the Royal Air Force (RAF) from 1905 to 1919."

Download the entire book (158 pages) HERE.


RUSI Vancouver members gather for lunch on Wednesdays at 12:00 Noon at the Officers' Mess of the 15th Field Regiment (RCA) located in the Bessborough Armouries, 2013 West 11th Avenue, Vancouver, BC.