COVER

PREPARING FOR THE WORST

CANADA BRACES ITSELF FOR WAR

January 21 1991
COVER

PREPARING FOR THE WORST

CANADA BRACES ITSELF FOR WAR

January 21 1991

PREPARING FOR THE WORST

COVER

CANADA BRACES ITSELF FOR WAR

At nuclear power plants in New Brunswick and Ontario, officials quietly called in extra staff members and increased surveillance. At airports across the country, special new security measures went into effect. In Charlottetown, the department of veterans affairs expanded its capability for handling potential death and injury claims for Canadian personnel in Persian Gulf operations. In Montreal, federal security agents interviewed members of the Iraqi-Canadian community. In Ottawa, the government announced that it will send more fighter jets to the Persian Gulf—and the opposition denounced the plan. Suddenly, for the first time in 37 years, Canada faced the prospect of war— and preparations took place across the nation against the backdrop of a grim warning. Said Defence Minister William McKnight: “People have to understand that in the role the Canadian Forces are involved in now, they will be warfighting. Canadian pilots will be shooting down Iraqi pilots and, unfortunately, Canadian pilots will be shot at.”

Throughout the country, the official prepa-

rations for possible hostilities intensified against a rising chorus of debate about Canada’s role in the conflict. And whatever the outcome of the showdown in the Persian Gulf, the shared experiences of a nation walking towards an eleventh-hour deadline produced emotions and actions not seen in Canada since the Korean War. The first shock took place early last week with a report that Iraqi terrorists had selected key targets in Canada. The week ended with a flurry of denials in Ottawa that the government had initiated a contingency plan to ship a 5,000-member brigade to the Gulf. And in homes and workplaces from coast to coast, families and colleagues discussed the possible consequences: Could one of the kids be drafted? Was the business flight to New York City safe? Was a global conflagration possible?

Terrorist: There were no answers to the larger questions. On the specifics, officials tended to downplay the alarmist reports. In Washington, the FBI would not confirm that the agency was investigating Iraqi agents who were planning disruptions in Canada. But the Montreal-based International Air Transport

Association warned Ottawa that Canada was a high-risk terrorist target, along with the other members of the Gulf multilateral force. For the first time, Transport Canada activated the fouryear-old Canadian Aerodrome Alert System for Canada’s airports. Transport Canada’s director general for security, John Rodocanachi, said that “at the moment, there is no indication of attacks in Canada,” but that the security action was “a prudent measure in case the situation changes.” Although airline passengers experienced no noticeable inconvenience last week, Rodocanachi said that moving to the highest level of alert would mean virtually “closing down” airports.

Officials were more guarded about the details of nuclear powg er-plant precautions. In New z Brunswick at the Lepreau reac° tor on the Bay of Fundy, authorities acknowledged that the number of people on guard duty had been increased. Security was also expanded at Ontario Hydro nuclear facilities, including reactors at Pickering and Darlington, east of Toronto, and at the Bruce nuclear plant on Lake Huron.

Attack: In Charlottetown, headquarters of the department of veterans affairs, information officer Loran Fevens said that sufficient resources were now in place to handle any requests involving the 1,700 Canadians in the Gulf region. “We are ready to deal with requests for benefits even if all-out war happens,” said Fevens.

In Ottawa, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney emerged from a Thursday meeting of senior cabinet ministers and said that the government had reached no decision on whether to authorize Canadian forces to participate in any U.S.led attack on Iraqi positions in Kuwait. He added that Parliament would reconvene this week to allow MPS to debate the issue. But a day later, Gen. John de Chastelain, chief of the defence staff, announced that Canada would augment its squadron of fighter jets in the Gulf with six more CF-18s, 130 service personnel and a tanker aircraft to refuel the fighters in midair. As well, the defence department issued a Saturday statement on behalf of McKnight insisting that the government had not, as had been reported, requested a contingency plan for sending 5,000 troops to the Gulf in the event of war. The statement read in part: “Allegations that the minister directed the department of national defence to plan the mobilization and deployment of a brigade group to the Gulf are unfounded.” But an official acknowledged that, on its own, the department had developed “many contingencies,” and a government source admitted that a plan to send a brigade of ground troops and tanks to the Gulf existed, but only to ensure that the Canadian Forces are ready for any eventuality.

The planning of contingencies promised to

become the focus of a vigorous debate in Parliament. Last week, Lloyd Axworthy, the Liberal external affairs critic, set the tone for that debate by asserting after the fighter-jet decision: “Clearly, the government has not been telling the truth about its intentions.” And NDP Leader Audrey McLaughlin faulted the government for lack of consultation about the decision. “The whole point of the democratic process,” she said, “is that you don’t just get to debate after all the decisions have been made.”

Against the backdrop of Parliament’s return, concern mounted about a massive military offensive half a world away that could involve Canadians in a life-and-death conflict. The Canadian Peace Alliance, an umbrella group representing 300 church, labor, women’s and peace organizations, sponsored demonstrations in dozens of centres to protest Canadian involvement in a military offensive. But many other Canadians said that they would support Canadian military action. Declared Calgary resident William Larkins, 70, a retired Royal Navy lieutenant-commander: “The West

should have gone into Kuwait much earlier.” The approach of war provoked familiar concerns from past hostilities. Draft-resistance workers in U.S. cities reported increasing numbers of calls from people who were worried about a possible réintroduction of the military draft, suspended in 1973, and asking about the prospect of avoiding it by going to Canada. And one spokesman for Iraqi-Canadians said that recent Canadian security service interviews have led to fears about internment

of refugees from the Saddam Hussein regime in Canada.

Draft: In Olympia, Wash., John Armstrong of the Draft Resistance Action Group at southcentral Evergreen State College said that counsellors have told students that draft dodgers likely would be returned under a CanadaU.S. extradition treaty. But in Vancouver, Brian Purdy, acting director of the federal justice department, said that the treaty probably would not apply to draft dodgers.

In Montreal, a visiting Iraqi said that many Iraqi-Canadians had discussed their fears of

internment. But Ali Ruhda, 34, who became a Canadian after fleeing from Iraq because he opposed fighting in the war with Iran, said that he is not concerned about internment. He told Maclean ’s: “The government knows very well we are refugees. We are against the regime. We suffered from it.” Ruhda said that agents from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service have interviewed some Iraqi immigrants, asking them two basic questions: whether they support Saddam Hussein, and what they would do in the event of war.

In Halifax, the fear of war did not dampen the euphoria surrounding the return of 366 crew members of the supply ship HMCS Protecteur who arrived home late last week as part of a regular rotation of personnel. Leading Seaman Mark Butler of Dartmouth, N.S., grinned as he greeted his wife, Sara, at Halifax airport. Asked about her reunion plans, Sara Butler replied: “They’re all X-rated.” Leading Seaman Russell Poole beamed alongside his wife, Dorothy, as he cradled his month-old son, Nicholas, bom in his absence. But the event created mixed emotions for Barbara Greensides. Her husband, Richard, came home, but the Protecteur’s replacement crew, which departed on Jan. 1, included her brother. Still, said Greensides: “I think they should be there.”

Worried: Many Canadians were clearly deeply worried about war. Their concerns dominated even casual conversations from Victoria to St. John’s. “War has always been something you read about,” said Robert Tough, 21, a professional guitar player in Halifax. “With our own people over there, you start to understand what it means in terms of human life.” The aversion to sending Canadians into battle is strongest in Quebec. A Gallup poll conducted last month showed that only 21 per cent of Quebecers favored Canadian military ing tervention, compared with 42 per cent 5 of all other Canadians.

I So serious had the situation become is that senior military officials and politi-

0 cians seemed compelled to discuss its

1 potential consequences frequently and candidly. “Any war is a brutal war,” said Gen. de Chastelain. “In any war, there will be casualties, people will get

hurt, people will be destroyed.” On the political front, senior Tories privately acknowledged that they were stung by criticism that Mulroney acted unilaterally in committing the Canadian Forces to the region last August. Clearly, the Prime Minister will need to muster as much support as possible if he decides to order those units into battle. He might choose to accomplish that by stating what exact role the Canadians would have and what the real risks are. Worried and anxious about the fate of their countrymen, Canadians may not settle for anything less. □