As national security experts warn that Canada’s military cannot continue as the country’s first line of defence in domestic disasters, organizations like the Canadian Red Cross are urging greater investment in local civilian emergency preparedness.
Speaking before the House of Commons defense committee on Tuesday, former top national security adviser Richard Fadden warned that the increasing use of Canadian soldiers to protect lives and property from disasters like flooding and wildfires is leaving them dangerously undertrained for their combat roles, reports CBC News.
In 2021, there were seven requests for military intervention to help manage natural disasters, up from an average of four in the four previous years, and two on average between 2010 and 2017.
“It is becoming too easy for prime ministers—not in particular this one, but prime ministers generally—to simply say, ‘I’m going to send in the army,’” Fadden told the four-party committee studying the Canadian military’s role in domestic emergency preparedness.
This overreliance may be endangering Canadian soldiers, particularly at a time of increasing geopolitical tensions.
“It is short of criminal to send our troops into potentially harm’s way if they’re not as trained as we can possibly make them,’ Fadden said. “I don’t think they’re doing enough [training] today. If they’re chopping wood… they’re not doing operational training.”
Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre echoed Fadden’s point, telling the committee he’s worried about the Canadian Forces’ “overall readiness to respond to events at home and abroad as it deals with growing demands to help with disaster response within Canada.”
Eyre warned that creating a dedicated force within the military to respond to natural disasters—a proposal that began circulating post-Hurricane Fiona—would require more recruitment.
Urging all levels of government and civil society to talk about “what they could and should do,” Fadden called on Ottawa “to undertake a thorough, independent review of all emergency response capacity across the country, both federal and provincial.”
Johanu Botha director of Manitoba’s Emergency Measures Organization, supported the call for a review but warned that military support cannot be withdrawn before an alternate solution is in place.
Canada has been “caught unprepared” for the kind of natural disasters it is increasingly experiencing, said Canadian Red Cross president Conrad Sauvé. He urged governments at all levels “to invest far more in local civilian emergency preparedness services—the people and organizations that are always the first to face a crisis,” writes CBC.
“I think we have to heighten that response as a civil protection,” Sauvé said.