Guest Commentary by Farid Rohani
Canada is not a militaristic country, in the sense that it has never used its military force to initiate acts of aggression against another country. Nor has it ever been a preponderantly military one. Yet our armed forces have always been an important part of the nation’s history and, without the existence of a strong military, our lives and our country would certainly have been very different.
Little surprise, then, that a serious discussion of Canada’s armed forces has not been high on the political agenda. The national discourse about defence has been low key, conducted away from the public gaze. The proud tradition of our forces, their proven heroics and their formative role in our history are rarely mentioned. Indeed, the enormous tasks that they perform daily throughout our country, from the arctic to the coasts, are largely taken for granted.
We would do well to remind ourselves that what our armed forces do, at home and around the world, allows us to live our lives as Canadian citizens free from the shadow of fear. Safeguarding our individual safety, and our treasured national values, are responsibilities faced every day by those brave men and women serving in our forces.
In addition to their vital role in maintaining international peace and security, patrolling our coasts and monitoring our skies, service personnel are also called upon to fight forest fires and cope with natural disasters from flooding to earthquakes. Yet many Canadians pay little heed to these selfless acts.
In today’s confused world, it has never been more important to have a clear and considered overview of how our armed forces should be prepared to deal with the most urgent issues of our times. From a global perspective, the ripples from war and bloodshed, whether in the Middle East or Africa, in Eastern Europe or the Far East, inevitably wash over us here at home.
It is time to react accordingly and I believe that the current consultations on Canada’s national defence, led by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, could not have come at a more appropriate time.We must find the means to ensure that our military continues not only to serve with honour, but to be amply provided with the necessary materiel to protect us from those whose evil ambitions threaten to disrupt our way of life.
We must as a nation come to fully understand the radically changed nature of current conflicts. We must learn to anticipate our enemies’ emerging tactics and to develop the technology to support the most advanced military tools. We need a comprehensive national policy, crafted in cooperation with our allies.
The primitive barbarism perpetrated by extremists in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Indonesia and elsewhere has shocked Canadians. We are sickened by images of innocent civilians cruelly caught up in the slaughter. And we are horrified that a Canadian citizen quietly going about his business is arbitrarily beheaded.
The challenge for us as a nation is to develop the expertise to tame this horror.
On a purely human level, we should show our moral support for our military men and women, vocally support them in their endeavours and let them know they occupy a special place in our hearts.
On a practical level, we must resolve that the equipment we provide is the most up-to-date we can obtain. It is absurd that soldiers should be expected to fight with less than the best. If sacrifices must be made elsewhere to achieve this aim, so be it. We must secure the funding to provide the most appropriate tools, whether it be new aircraft, ships, land vehicles or electronics. Spending to modernize our military must become a long-term policy and a top priority.
A new Canadian forces policy on diversity must also be developed. We must give Canada’s visible minorities a more prominent role in the armed forces. And, as importantly, we must find ways to promote diversity, both in gender and cultural terms.
The ongoing public consultations led by Minister Sajjan present an opportunity for Canadians to share their thoughts and ideas for formulating the most forward-looking policies for our nation’s military in the decades ahead.
Canada is in a unique position to contribute to easing some of the world’s most dangerous trouble-spots and its armed forces can play a vital role in achieving that goal. But it will only happen if we can learn to fully appreciate the potential significance of our country’s new role in a changed world. It is to be hoped that the outcome of the present debate will at least offer Canadians a vision for the future of the armed forces behind which we can all unite.
Farid Rohani is a member of the British Columbia Regimental Association and Chair of the Board of Directors Laurier Institution.