Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) ATHABASKAN comes up along side a Vessel Of Interest while on patrol during Op CARIBBE, October 1, 2014. ©DND 2014
Photo by: Cpl Anthony Chand, Formation Imaging Services Halifax

The Ridiculous War on Drugs

The ‘War on Drugs’ in North America has been ongoing for about a century now. Canada prohibited opium with the Opium Act in 1908 as part of the government’s racist policies concerning Asians[1]. Also, around this time, the States were using racism and fear-mongering to make drugs like marijuana illegal[2] and of course used a Constitutional amendment in 1919 to prohibit alcohol. Canada also prohibited alcohol with PEI banning the booze starting in 1901 with all provinces except Quebec joining in by 1917. The Canadian prohibition movement slowly started to lose steam with PEI being the last hold-out in 1948[3]. Other drugs like marijuana and cocaine were quietly put on the books during this time and Western governments have been fighting the drug-using portions of their populations ever since.

In the interests of full disclosure, here is the extent of my personal experimentation with illicit drugs. Growing up in Kelwood, MB, I knew there was access to marijuana. I even heard some rumours of cocaine floating around. Alcohol was my drug of choice and occasionally as a young man I went to a house or bush party for some drinking. Later in university, alcohol was again my favourite drug. I joined the military at the age of 19, so I stayed away from other drugs due to the punitive measures associated with them. Since I had limited experience with drugs, including smoking, it was an eye-opening experience to see the marijuana culture on Vancouver Island when I moved there in 2000. Finally, in my mid-thirties I tried a few puffs, had one too many pot cookies and tried a magic mushroom. The experimentation didn’t do much for me plus I was headed back towards jobs in the Coast Guard and military where strict measures against illegal drug use were in place. So if you’re looking for an expert on the affects of drugs other than alcohol, you need someone else’s advice. As for alcohol, I love the depth and breadth of varieties available from all over the world but that product is mostly legal with various restrictions. I use alcohol because I like the taste and social aspects of this particular drug. I do not abuse alcohol because of the after effects and societal penal measures.

So why the revelation of my limited drug experience? I want to make the point that the so-called War on Drugs has been ridiculous, wasteful and is directly financing criminal organizations. Human beings for various reasons need outlets to socialize, cope or to enhance their lives. Some turn to religion, hobbies, gambling, booze, smoking, other drugs, you name it. For the vast majority of people, they can function quite fine thank you and what I do doesn’t affect you so stay out of my business. A tiny minority end up harming themselves and others. So what’s society’s first response to a person exhibiting a drug problem? Punitive measures. America is the worst with a drug related incarceration rate that has gone off the charts[4]. Even up in Canada, you have to be scared of even one drink before driving up to a Check Stop. Culturally, we have been taught to demonize drug users as morally reprehensible addicts, pot heads with reefer madness[5] or criminals on the marginal edges of society. Until Canadian law changes next year[6], simple marijuana possession results in criminal records for tens of thousands of Canadians annually.[7] The 30 gram personal use limit being talked about currently could result in a Possession for the Purposes of Trafficking minimum sentence of 1-2 years[8]. Obviously, with so many heavy disciplinary measures against drug use, citizens should have long ago been scared straight and like me, been satisfied with the state allowing you to enjoy a few drinks.

Instead, U.S. and Canadian citizens have disregarded ever increasing draconian drug laws, vilifying propaganda, and alarmist political hyperbole to the point where marijuana first was legalized for medical use, then recreational use in a few states, to universal availability next year for Canada. Similar to alcohol prohibition, the populace using the herb has increased to the point where the costs and numbers are so high, the state overlords have conceded defeat.[9] Marijuana use has been steadily increasing despite concerted government efforts[10]. Personally, I do not particularly like Justin Trudeau’s government but I believe he is correct to reform the cannabis laws. Alternatively, Kellie Leitch, one of the Conservative Party leader contenders has a strong position against marijuana and I believe that stance will hurt her. The population has spoken and the efforts of the narcs have gone up in smoke.

So why do so many people use illegal drugs when the consequences can be so dire? From my observations, I believe that humans need outlets of some sort especially during times of stress. Marriage partners wouldn’t cheat on one another if they were happy in their union. Self-harming behaviors increase as you become more depressed. For example, anxious American soldiers in Vietnam used copious amounts of heroin in order to function[11]. Even fairly happy people enjoy a break from everyday reality on occasion, hence TGIF for the Air Force and Weepers for the Navy. I saw an interesting example of ‘letting loose’ from the Jordanian military officers who were on language training with me in Quebec. They were devout Muslims, praying five times a day (which included a middle of the night prayer), no pork, no alcohol and no womanizing. Pretty much a no fun kind of life compared to Western soldiers. But pull out the hookah pipe (their term was Hubbly Bubbly) and they would become giddy as school girls. No, they explained, it was straight tobacco, a harsh manly variety, not that flavoured Western stuff made for women. All humans use some form of activity to escape from reality. If your reality is particularly bad then you might turn to a harsh drug to compensate. But if you’re caught out, then society labels you a moral failure and is likely to toss in a criminal record for good measure. Three guesses as to whether that will make your life better or worse.

I am not advocating handing out pot candies to seven year olds or letting people shoot up heroin on every street corner. What make eminent sense to logical, sane people who have seen the affects of drugs, is to decriminalize the practice and approach the issue from a health, harm reduction point of view. I worked for a short period of time in the Main and Hastings area of Vancouver as a Coroner’s assistant. It is hell on earth and the land of walking zombies. The downward spiral that brings a person to this point is short lived as by my rough estimate most of the junkies had a life expectancy of 6 to 24 months. We would make bets on how soon we would be picking up a particular walking corpse. Plus, sad to say, the sooner they die, the sooner they stop being a horrendous financial drain[12]. I also worked as a first aid attendant at GM Place in Vancouver and observed substantial drug use and their different affects. If you worked a Garth Brooks concert with the stadium full of wannabe cowboys drinking beer, you were guaranteed to have fist fights. But when the Upper Bowl was obscured from all the pot smoke during an Ozzy Osbourne concert, the crowd calmly dispersed home after his voice gave out on the third song. Alcoholics create much more mayhem compared to pot smokers. Even hard drug users could be productive members of society if society wouldn’t knock out all their support structures. If you want proof, then Portugal is the poster child for total decriminalization of all drugs[13].

We already have proof that a public health approach works better than a stick over the head method. While I was in BC, it was more socially acceptable to light up a doobie than it was to have a smoke. After years of getting the message out to smokers that the habit was detrimental to everyone’s health, rates especially amongst the young have steadily decreased. The same can be said for binge drinking and alcohol abuse. I say the same approach should be taken to deal with all harmful substances. Most people realize that huffing glue, snorting coke, smoking Meth, shooting heroin, downing a 40 ouncer nightly, or whatever your poison, probably isn’t the best of life choices. But if they want to engage in harmful practices and stick poison into their bodies then that’s up to them and if it’s not bothering anyone then that’s their business. Just over a hundred years ago, when you could buy opium syringe kits and heroin through Sears and Roebucks[14], the government decided to get concerned with what people were putting into their bodies. But instead of studying and regulating the issue, it became the age of prohibition. Too bad that as a society we didn’t implement an educational, supportive system to give hope and a way out to individuals who overreach their personal capabilities and let their habits get away from them. The retributive approach has more than proven to be a costly and total waste of effort.

Newspaper ad for children’s cocaine toothache drops

I have a medal for my Operation CARIBBE[15] participation with the Royal Canadian Navy. On my two trips, we hassled a few vessels, scared a few ‘go-fasts’ into jettisoning their cargo and ran a cargo ship out of fuel. That ship was subsequently towed to Guantanamo Bay, stripped and let loose after nothing was found. I vividly recall when my destroyer ‘pulled over’ a Canadian sailing vessel and relieved the man of his baggie of weed. Under the auspices of a UN charter, our US Coast Guard ‘muscle’ boarded, searched and confiscated a miniscule amount of plant material from a man minding his own business out in international waters. I was sickened and ashamed of my role. Even when the interdiction forces are somewhat more successful such as during the recent cocaine seizures on the West side with HMCS Saskatoon, they only stop a small fraction of the drug flow[16]. The War on Drugs by any measure has been a spectacular flop.

Compounding the abject failure to slow down the drug flow to populations that are clamoring for more product, is the fact that money from the drug sales is going into the hands of really, really bad people. Before the purported CIA machinations in pre-Soviet Afghanistan, there was little opium trade in the area. Now, the Taliban run and profit from an industry that supplies close to 90% of the world’s opium[17]. Mexico’s infamous Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was on the Forbes World’s Billionaires List for several years running. Columbian cocaine cartels have enough excess cash to start building their own mini-submarine fleets. These are particularly nasty people who are financing their nefarious organizations off the insatiable demand for their goods. Why in heaven’s name do we not legalize everything and cut their business out from under them? Instead we just keep financing them, spend billions on wasted enforcement efforts and needlessly destroy people’s lives.

Thankfully some common sense is percolating through political channels here in North America. After cannabis legalization goes through next year, I might grow a plant or two for the novelty and may even have a joint or a pot candy. I am more excited for the return of hemp and all the useful products that can be produced from the plant[18].

Happy 4:20 Day!

[1] Opium was in use by Asians in Vancouver and future Prime Minister Mackenzie King was investigating the 1907 anti-Asian riots for the federal government. It was feared that opium smoking would become popular with white people hence the beginning of drug prohibitions. Marijuana was criminalized in 1923.

[2] Marijuana was touted as a drug that would drive you insane like the crazy Mexicans. White women would sleep with the Negro, you would listen to devil jazz music and you would murder your family with an axe. California was the first state in 1913 to outlaw the plant.

[3] Prohibition in Canada was promoted as doing your patriotic duty for King and Country during World War I. Alcohol went underground and numerous ‘speakeasies’ or ‘blind pigs’ sprung up to quench people’s thirst.

[4] America by far incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world. Russia and Rwanda are next at 2/3rds of America’s rate. Canada is in 8th place at about 1/7th of the top rate. From 1925 to 1962, US citizens in State and Federal prisons slowly rose from about 100,000 to 200,000. Then in 1973, the numbers rose exponentially to 2.2 million Americans locked up today with another 4.7 million on probation. A full half of the Federal prisons are full of people on non-violent drug charges. From 1980 to 2015, the drug incarceration rate rose from 8% to 21% of the total prison population. State costs for locking everyone up has ballooned from 6.7 billion in 1985 to 56.9 billion in 2015.

[5] Reefer Madness (1936) is a cult film about how good white kids can be hooked on pot. After one joint, they will turn to a life of toking, jazz and despair. The propaganda plays into the fears that teenagers will use marijuana as a gateway drug and ruin their lives.

[6] The Liberal government has proposed to legalize and regulate Cannabis by mid-2018.

[7] Over the years, even Canadian Police Associations have recognized the overly punitive penalties for simple marijuana possession are counter-productive. Stats for 2007 indicated that of the 100,000 drug possession charges, 47,000 were for marijuana. The associated criminal charges end up being very costly to society and the persons involved.

[8] 30 grams of pot, the equivalent of a full baggie, could easily be construed as an amount large enough to traffic which would result in a lengthy minimum sentence.

[9] In 2012, an estimated 3.4 million or 12.2% of Canadians used marijuana. 43% of all Canadians have tried it at some point. Strangely, NS had the highest use of 16% versus BC use of 14.5%. A older woman living in a Saskatchewan rural area has the lowest usage percentage.

[10] Stats from 2013 estimate that close to 10% of Americans have used illicit drugs in the last month which is up almost 10% in a decade. Marijuana, used by about 6% of the population, is the drug of choice with other illicit drug use generally holding steady or in decline except for Meth which has upticked. Interestingly, nonmedical prescription drug use is about a third of the rate of marijuana use. Alcohol and tobacco use, dependency and abuse rates are all steadily decreasing. Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

[11] Time Magazine reported that 20% of American soldiers were doing heroin while in Vietnam. Paradoxically, 95% of these ‘hooked on heroin’ junkies mostly quit on their own once returning to Stateside presumably to a more pleasant environment. The theory is if you place a person in an austere, hopeless environment with little human interaction and little hope, they will take solace in what’s available such as drugs. Give them better choices and they will shy away from self-harming behaviors. Source – Chasing The Scream: The First And Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Harl.

[12] In 2014, the Vancouver Sun reported on the actual per person costs of a downtown Eastside junkie. Over a five year period, 300 people cost the province just in health, social welfare and justice services about $90,000 each. All the other social services associated with their care were estimated to substantially increase the costs of their care.

[13] In 2001, in order to combat the country’s drug issues, Portugal decriminalized the use of all drugs. The experiment has been quite successful due to a public health approach versus criminal.

[14] Opium, laudanum, cocaine and morphine were widely available in America. If you couldn’t get to a store, you could order it along with a syringe kit through the popular mail-order catalogue. Cocaine drops were for your teething children and genteel white woman of Temperance associations took tonics (laudanum) as nightcaps. Source – Drugs Across the Spectrum, Raymond Goldberg, page 172.

[15] The RCN regularly sends ships and aircraft to the West and East Caribbean for drug interdiction operations with a host of other countries all led by the US Coast Guard.

[16] During a 2016 UN conference to discuss the issue, despite the billions spent on drug interdiction, this is a Golden Age of Drug Trafficking. Just the cost of my ship down in the Eastern Caribbean for a month’s patrol cost in the range of 3 to 4 million.

[17] Worldwide profits from illegal drugs are conservatively estimated at $500 billion/yr. Afghan farmers would like to grow crops other than poppies but between the profits and pressure from the Taliban, they are unable.

[18] During World War II, due to a shortage of rope making material for Navy ships, prohibition against hemp was lifted. Due to a quirk in the law, this very useful plant was again prohibited after the war. The THC content is very low, (< 1%) so you would have to smoke an inordinate amount to get high.

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My collection of pins from numerous events and clubs

Canada’s Other Winter Sport

Although in most Canadian’s minds, they would say that hockey is Canada’s sport, hopefully a few of them have paid attention to the formidable performances of our national teams during the 2017 World competitions in China and Edmonton. Ontario’s Rachel Homan and Newfoundland’s Brad Gushue Canadian teams have been perfect throughout play, stringing together a perfect streak of wins. Gushue has put on an absolute curling clinic going the full ten ends only three times in the twelve games played so far. Hopefully, he will make it a lucky 13 with one more win over Sweden’s Niklas Edin’s rink tonight.

***Update from last night’s win over Sweden, the men’s and women’s teams went perfect at the World’s this year. Gushue’s rink could arguably be the best team ever considering they only had to play 4 complete games out of 13. For the first time ever, one country has all the reigning champions of World’s and Olympics.***

Hat from the second to last Schooner Spiel as the base closed in 1991

I started curling during my posting to CFB Summerside from 1989-91. I took up the sport to keep active and for the social aspects. It is very gentlemanly when you’re having a bad game to be able to shake hands early and go for a beer.

Pins from my time on the Great Red Mud

My first rink with Paul Dobbs curled out of the CFB club, the Hack & Hog. We entered the Tankard Bonspiel for the Island up in the O’Leary club. Due to the small size of the province, it was relatively easy to get a Tankard pin compared to the rest of Canada.

Pins from military bonspiels

I was able to participate in a couple of military bonspiels in Ottawa and CFB Cornwallis, NS. Bonspiels were a regular staple of military bases back then.

Pins from the five clubs I curled at in Saskatoon, SK

Fairly soon after I left the military in 1991, we moved to Saskatoon and from 1992-93, I was fairly serious about curling. Our team from the CNR club off Fairlight Drive worked hard and did well. I was able to curl in all of Saskatoon’s five clubs.

Pins from the BC Lower Mainland

When we moved to Vancouver in 1995, I was lucky to have a rink five minutes from our New Westminster home, the Royal City Club. I was quite busy with work and the kids, so curling started to take a back seat.

Comox Valley, BC club pins

Once we moved over to Vancouver Island, it was again difficult to regularly get down to the club in Courtenay, BC.

The old Kelwood Curling Club building

Growing up in Kelwood, I was more of a hockey player instead of a curler. I did play a few games through the school at the old town rink using Mom’s old Rink Rat for a broom. As a sweeper, you had to slap those old fabric brooms pretty hard to be effective.

Rink Rat Brooms

We were cooling our heels in Winnipeg waiting for the furniture to show up from Summerside and there were tickets for the event still. Graham was only a few months old and he got a bit of TV coverage when I was walking him around. Unfortunately, Kevin Martin’s rink lost to Scotland. It was back before the Free Guard zone and the teams back then just played a peel game, so if you went down a couple of points, there was no way back.

Memorable Manitoba curling pins

I wasn’t able to curl very often after rejoining the military back in 2007 but I was able to curl occasionally in Portage while I was there for pilot training.

The start of my Halifax collection

It will be easier to spend regular time with a team now that my military days are done. Sailing with the Navy made it difficult to commit to a team so I was only able to play as a spare at the base club.

I dragged Tina to the World Men’s competition and unfortunately Canada’s John Morris rink ended up in third with Sweden’s Niklas Edin winning the tournament.

Sweden has a tough team and Brad Gushue will have to be sharp to make it past him tonight. The team from the Rock has held up magnificently this past week and curling fans will enjoy watching the Battle of the Rocks tonight.

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Pals and Buddies – Canada, the First World War and Vimy

On April 2, 2017, the Dalhousie Undergraduate History Society[1] arranged to have Honorary Colonel John Boileau[2] give a lecture entitled Canada and the First World War – A Remarkable Record. The timing of the presentation is apropos as the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge[3], April 9-12, 1917, is fast approaching.

Similar commemorative Vimy Ridge ceremonies[4], events, plays, and exhibits will be taking place all across Canada in the coming days. Two main ceremonies will take place in Ottawa and France. The Nova Scotia Highlanders who stormed Hill 145, now the site of the famous memorial, hopefully would be amazed at how that unholy landscape was transformed into an oasis of tranquility and reverence. Even the site’s most infamous visitor was awed and moved by the Canadian monument.[5]

Colonel Boileau took a couple of hours to briefly touch on Canada’s contribution and sacrifices during the Great War. At first, he was in a quandary as to how to approach the vast topic. There were many options such as approaching the project anecdotally, sequentially, nationally or by historical significance. As he termed it, he took a typical Canadian tactic and came at the issue from all angles to meet in the center. It’s worth mentioning his opening joke of ‘Why did the Canadian cross the road?’ with the reply, ‘To get to the middle!’ Narrowing down the immense amount of information available, he described the major battles Canadians fought in: Ypres, Somme, Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, Amiens and Canada’s 100 Days[6]. He spoke of the stalwartness of Canadian troops who stood resolute in the face of German chlorine attacks at Ypres. This brand new method of warfare was used first to hit the French lines causing panic and confusion. The Germans hit the lines again with clouds of deadly, green gas but the Canadians had produced a counter-method to the poison by breathing through cloth they had urinated on. The Canadian Corps were often up front and center, first in the line of German fire.

Canadians were known for their inventiveness, ingenuity and as fearsome shock troops. Colonel Boileau described the Canadian innovations such as the Motor Machine gun Brigade, the practice of trench raiding, meticulous battle planning and preparation, and throwing off the Germans by not always preceding an attack with artillery. The Allies soon made the Canadians their go-to troops to the point that their movements had to be disguised so as not to tip off the Germans of an imminent attack. Canadian soldiers, time and time again, proved themselves on the fields of battle. Of course in Canadian mythology, it was the battle of Vimy Ridge where over the course of four days our nation was born. The Colonel even had a letter from one of the young soldiers who opined that the battle had given birth to Canada as a nation. Sadly, not long after, the soldier’s parents received a telegram with news of his death.

There were a few powerful key messages I took away from the Colonel’s presentation. First, this was warfare on an industrial scale, of which had never been previously experienced by the nations involved. Mobilization and casualty rates[7] were incredibly high as the horror of trench warfare chewed up millions of men, animals and equipment. A hundred years on, the vast majority of Canadians would find it impossible to comprehend the effort and sacrifice needed to keep pressing forward. Sure, the motto and motivation of the time was for King and Country but for the men in the trenches, my feeling was they were fighting for each other. Your pals and buddies were launching themselves over the wall into No Man’s Land in desperate attempts to cheat death. Letting them down would have been a strong motivator to get you moving when every human instinct was telling you to stay put.

My mother’s father was a young man just before the outbreak of World War II and this stimulus for fighting with your pals was still in full force. The vast majority of Canadians fighters have been volunteers but the military knows how to recruit when needed. My grandfather was in Grade Twelve and all the young men had to take a four week Homeland Security Basic training course. At the end when they were all pumped up, they were asked to join up. Peer pressure did the rest and unless you had a valid reason such as being a farmer like my other grandfather, you were signed up on the spot. Many families, smaller towns and villages lost disproportionately high numbers of their male population due to men signing up with their buddies.[8]

Another message I thought about after the lecture was how did those young men function and exist in this horrid environment for even a day let alone years? I draw on my own experience as a 19 year old arriving in Borden, Ontario for Basic Officer Training back in 1986. They took a picture of me shortly after getting off the bus and I literally have the look of a frightened deer in the headlights. I was fresh off the farm, wondering what I had gotten myself into and why was there so much yelling. During the training, my company executed a frontal assault on a defended ridge. I was panting in my gas mask, charging towards the mock enemy and clearly remember the ‘grenade’ lobbed towards me landing at my feet. I lay down at that moment knowing I was ‘fatally wounded’. My infantry experience would be nothing compared to the shock of a typical Canadian soldier[9] being thrown into the maelstrom of death, gore and muck of a place such as the Ypres Salient. The average age of a Canuck soldier was 26, but most of the men in the infantry were much younger. In fact, by some estimates, 20,000 underage boys enlisted to fight with reports that the youngest in the trenches was 12. Most modern Canadian children are thinking about babysitting at this age, not fighting in a war. Of course, the stipulated age for joining was 18 to 45 but males at both ends of the spectrum lied about their ages. The entire affair was a monumental testament to both the inhumanity of our species and to humanity’s ability to persevere in such cruel conditions.

The last striking message to me was the sheer number of Unknown Soldiers. One quarter of Canadian deaths resulted in no known graves. Similar, if not higher numbers, were suffered by the Allies[10]. There are German war cemeteries where each cross is used for a set amount of soldiers as circumstances dictated mass grave burials. The modern Canadian Armed Forces takes great pains to bring our dead home, giving rise to poignant national ‘Ramp’ ceremonies and processions down the Highway of Heroes. But the only closure for thousands of relatives and loved ones back then would have been the dreaded telegram. Occasionally, with DNA matching, a few soldiers are being identified and finally put to rest. Envision how devastating it was for all those swaths of families who could not hold a proper burial service.

The museum at the Halifax Citadel is holding a special free open house to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Vimy Ridge the weekend of April 8-12. Even though it was meant to be the War that ended all Wars and happened long ago, it is still vitally important that all Canadians attend or watch a Vimy commemoration. War should not be glamourized but the sacrifices and triumphs of all those brave Canadians on those far away battlefronts should not be forgotten. There should be meaning and understanding when uttering the phrase ‘We will remember them’.

[1] Dalhousie Undergraduate History Society Homepage –

[2] Colonel Boileau’s Biography – Bio_Boileau

[3] The Battle of Vimy Ridge – Veterans Affairs Canada, February 27, 2017 –

[4] Veteran’s Canada links to Vimy Ridge Commemoration ceremonies across Canada and in France – Veterans Affairs Canada, April 1, 2017 –

[5] During the German WWII European occupation, many Allied war cemeteries were defaced and damaged by revengeful German troops. After British reports of the monument being purposely damaged by Germans, Hitler did a photo-op on the Vimy Ridge grounds to prove it was still standing and unharmed. He also stationed Waffen-SS troops to guard the grounds. The site was re-taken by the Welsh Guards and verified to be unharmed in September 1944. Hitler’s Visit Still Haunting, The London Free Press, Greg van Moorsel, April 5, 2007 –

[6] Historical Sheets on many of the Canadian Corps major WW1 battles – Veterans Affairs Canada, April 6, 2016 –

[7] From a nation of 8 million people, Canada put 650,000 men and women in uniform. This included 3,141 women who served as Nursing Sisters. By the end of the war, Canada’s price in blood was 66,000 dead and more than 172,000 wounded. 45 Nursing Sisters had perished from a hospital bombing, a hospital ship being sunk and disease. Veterans Affairs Canada – The Nursing Sisters of Canada, November 18, 2016 –

[8] At the start of the war, Britain saw the formation of ‘Pals’ Battalions. After one particular bloody battle or another, this would result in a village’s male population to be no more. Facts & Figures, Ian Houghton ––figures–myths.html

[9] Tommy Canuck – The Infantry Soldier, Canadian War Museum,

[10] Wikipedia entry on WWI Casualty figures –

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Photo courtesy of C-27J Canada

Leonardo’s FWSAR Court Battle

(This post is dedicated to the memory of SHOTGUN 36. Scores of RCAF pilots benefited from his tireless dedication. He will be missed!)

Happy 93rd Birthday to the RCAF!

Lieutenant General (Ret’d) Steve Lucas[1], a spokesman for Leonardo S.p.A., laid out the company’s position for disputing the recent FWSAR contract. As a former Chief of the Air Staff and then special advisor to the consortium that put together the bid for the FWSAR, LGen Lucas had a unique insight to the twists and turns of the process. He has substantial experience from an Air Force Air Navigator and staff officer point of view. He put in numerous hours with the Spartan Team to ensure a strong technical bid that would provide the Air Force with a superior aircraft, on time and on budget. He was confused as to why the C295W was chosen when it appeared to be clearly non-compliant in a few key areas.

LGen Lucas already had several reservations about the capability of the Airbus product. He agreed that the C295W was slow compared to the C27J which puts victims in jeopardy due to higher wait times especially when a search area is at a significant distance. He doesn’t like the fact that because the C295W was based on a passenger aircraft thus limiting the usable height in the cargo area where the SAR Technicians will be working. He did concede that Airbus was planning on producing their aircraft with more powerful engines in order to marginally increase its two engine speed and mitigate issues with one engine operations.

But the main basis for the lawsuit rests on two points where the Airbus aircraft literally did not meet the Request For Proposal (RFP) criteria.

  • Point One – It was specified that the winning aircraft must be able to complete all SAR missions in a single crew day. In the case of a high Arctic rescue mission, the C295W does not have the speed to accomplish this scenario. The ‘out’ for Airbus was to add a fifth Main Operating Base which was allowed for in the RFP but this would add significant cost to the bid. It would make more sense just to have an aircraft that can accomplish these extreme missions without the extra resources.
  • Point Two – The current C295W unlike most other aircraft of its type is not built with an Auxiliary Power Unit (APU). An APU is handy for self-starting the aircraft, especially in out of the way airports where start carts and qualified personnel might be an issue. An APU becomes more critical during emergencies where an engine is down and it can be used to power extra systems instead of relying on your good engine to do all the work. This would be of great concern to an aircrew on a search over the Atlantic with an engine out and a significant distance from a suitable airfield. The lack of APU and lower airspeed hurts the C295W’s unofficial Extended Operations (ETOPS) performance which is approximately 140 minutes. If this aircraft flew to the extreme Atlantic edge of Canada’s SAR zone of 30˚W, it would require an ETOPS rating of 330. The C27J has an unofficial ETOPS 240 rating, which with its speed would allow it to safely accomplish missions to the far ocean edges of the SAR zones. SAR crews flying the 295W would be unnecessarily placed into harm’s way whereas they wouldn’t have those concerns flying the Spartan.

During my research, LGen Lucas and others shared their thoughts on possible ways in which doors were opened for competition against the C27J which eventually led to the awarding of the bid to Airbus. Originally, it was alleged that the Air Force tilted the SORs so much in favour of the Spartan that it ended up being the only aircraft qualified. The government wanted to show they could hold an open and fair procurement process, so they appear to have re-jigged the competition so other companies could engage in bidding. Even with this re-jigging, it appeared that the Spartan was still going to win. The public probably wouldn’t have been happy with an expensive 10 year wheel-spinning process that just returned the government back to the original choice of the C27J. But if you fiddle with the points awarded for items like lifetime in-service support and decrease points awarded for capability, then you can skew the numbers in a pre-determined direction. For example, the lack of APU in the C295W and associated inherent weaknesses did not seem to factor against the aircraft in the bidding scoring matrix. Viola! SOR manipulation that appears open, fair and just. Ironically, this was exactly what Airbus had accused the RCAF of doing back in 2005.

The Federal government and Airbus have until April 10, 2017 to respond to the points brought up in the Leonardo lawsuit. It is expected that the courts will start looking at the claims and responses in June.

Fifth Estate did an interview with the retired LGen in 2012 about his thoughts on the proposed Air Force purchase of the F-35[2]. At the end of the interview, he makes a statement, ‘Nobody wants to put their friends, their colleagues into a situation where they are going to come out second best’. This would seem to hold true for the FWSAR purchase. The RCAF SAR aircrews and ex-Air Force personnel supporting and putting in the Spartan bid all want what is best for the men and women out on those austere SAR missions. To borrow a few more of the LGen’s words, you don’t get any prizes for finishing second.

[1] Annoucement of appointment of LGen Lucas as Commander of Air Command and Chief of the Air Staff, May 16,2005 –

[2] Fifth Estate interview with LGen Lucas on F-35 purchase for RCAF, September 28, 2012 –

Blair’s LinkedIn Profile

Blair is a personification of a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’. He has held several careers and has all the T-shirts. Time to add the title Blogger to the list.