Members of the Royal Canadian Navy, US Navy and Sierra Leone Navy watch as HMCS Moncton comes alongside HMCS Summerside in Freetown, Sierra Leone during Obangame Express on March 19, 2017.
Photo: MCpl Pat Blanchard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera

RCN innovation furthers Canadian diplomacy in West Africa

Recently, I had the pleasure to participate in a ‘round table’ group discussion regarding the Royal Canadian Navy’s (RCN) spring 2017 deployment to West Africa, NEPTUNE TRIDENT 17-01. The Commanding Officers of the participating vessels, Lieutenant-Commanders (LCdr) Nicole Robichaud of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Moncton¸ and Paul Smith of HMCS Summerside, plus the head RCN planner, Commander (Cdr) David Finch, spoke at length about the tremendous success of the endeavor.

Participants of the exercise included the two Kingston-class patrol ships, often known as Maritime Coastal Defence Vessels (MCDV); a RCN Maritime Tactical Operations Group detachment (specialists in boarding); and ships and personnel from Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, France and the US. The RCN has produced numerous descriptive articles about the deployment, some of which can be accessed at:

The continent of Africa has significant strategic importance for Canada in relation to future security, humanitarian and trade missions. The RCN has participated in similar deployments in North and East African waters but this was a first for these West African countries. Keeping with the tradition of Canadian ingenuity, the RCN planners came up with an innovative solution to building a positive presence in the region.

Lieutenant-Commander Paul Smith, Commanding Officer of HMCS Summerside talks to students at the all-girl Saint Joseph’s Primary School in Freetown, Sierra Leone during Neptune Trident 17-01 on March 23, 2017.
Photo: MCpl Pat Blanchard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera

To begin with, why was a vessel designed to operate locally be sent all the way across the Atlantic? These 55 metre coastal vessels have been pressed into service on voyages well past their original design. They have been given ice ratings and regularly sail in Canada’s Arctic Ocean. They frequently sail the East and West Caribbean on Operation CARIBBE drug enforcement patrols. They have been across ‘the Pond’ (familiar navy name for the Atlantic) participating in NATO European exercises. Put into perspective, these ships are not much smaller than the 62.5 meter Flower-class RCN corvettes that were on Second World War convoy duty, so it is not that much of a stretch to have them sail so far afield. Thankfully, with today’s technology, alternate southern routing and forecasting tools, a Kingston captain can do a proper risk assessment before attempting the crossing. According to the Commanding Officers, the ships handled the voyage well. The only significant maintenance issues centered on excessive African heat as RCN ships are primarily designed for cooler northern climates.

Once the ships voyaged across the Atlantic, there were several justifications that led to their being the perfect platforms for the mission. There are challenges inherent to operating in less-than-optimal African ports. Kingstons, with their smaller size and crew complement, alleviate many of the practical issues that would have prevented the efficient use of a larger ship such as a Halifax-class frigate. Many of the African ports would not have been able to accommodate a larger vessel with berthing, fuel or supplies. Kingstons generally do not need tug assistance. While alongside, a higher percentage of personnel can participate in community relation events. Lastly, expenditures on Kingstons come in at approximately $5000 a day for operating costs vice $35000 a day for a frigate. As LCdr Robichaud stated, Kingstons are excellent for this type of deployment.

Lieutenant-Commander Nicole Robichaud, Commanding Officer of HMCS Moncton speaks to guests onboard the ship in Freetown, Sierra Leone during Obangame Express on March 20, 2017.
Photo: MCpl Pat Blanchard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera

As the RCN officers assembled at the round table explained, there were strong psychological components to their mission that helped contribute to their resounding success. For centuries, the world’s navies acted as their country’s diplomats. A ‘ship of the line’ would appear at a port, drop anchor and send a delegation ashore to make contact with the local dignitaries. Fancy receptions would be held at the local government houses with reciprocating parties held onboard the vessels. The practice continues to this day. For example, as part of Canada Day 150 celebrations, several US Navy ships including the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower were present in Halifax, Nova Scotia. One of the hottest tickets in town was to be invited to Eisenhower’s reception party. The Kingstons were used in a similar fashion during their port visits as there were plenty of opportunities for parties, hands-on training and day sails for guests. Canadian embassy staff remarked that more ‘diplomacy’ happened over these get-togethers than what they could accomplish in months.

Another point favouring the use of the Kingstons was the fact that they are not overwhelming ‘weapons of war.’ Many of the African navies are in the nascent stages of development. During joint training, they were still mastering basic seamanship and security skills. Boarding exercises are easier to accomplish with a smaller vessel. The guest navy personnel were happy with hands-on firing of the Kingstons’ .50 caliber machine guns with no need to learn about missiles or large naval guns. The African navies have limited resources, and if you don’t take an air of superiority, then they can relate and be greatly cooperative.

Another aspect to the deployment that is a result of the Canadian Armed Force’s (CAF) push for diversity was the coincidence of LCdr Smith being black with matriarchal ties going to Freetown, Sierra Leone, and LCdr Robichaud being a woman going to Liberia whose president is the first elected female head of a state of Africa. Cdr Finch joked that he couldn’t have planned the circumstances better. It is a testament to the dedicated efforts of the RCN for inclusivity that these types of situations will become normal, and the focus is on the person and the mission, not their race or gender.

This led into an important point that LCdr Smith wanted to stress. The Canadian flag and reputation were very powerful in that part of the world. Unlike the Americans and French who also participated in the exercise, the RCN was perceived to have no ‘history’ or ulterior motives. Canadians are seen as helpers wanting to do the right thing regardless of who you are. This built-in good will helped the RCN accomplish its outreach goal to such a point that next year’s mission has already been approved.

Members of the Christian Young Adult Fellowship of Sierra Leone go for a ride aboard a rigid hulled inflatable boat during a visit of HMCS Summerside to Freetown, Sierra Leone during Neptune Trident 17-01 on March 22, 2017.
Photo: MCpl Pat Blanchard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera

I asked Cdr Finch if there was any downside to this RCN success story. He replied that the only negative was they could not get to all the nations that asked for the Canadians. African nations want to be part of the wider world and are hungry for training and expertise to be able to secure their maritime interests. While Summerside and Moncton were present in the area, illegal fishing fleets kept their distance. With training, local navies will be able to build their own ‘Recognized Maritime Picture’ (plot of the situation at sea) to first document these criminals and then move towards interdiction and prosecution. Furthering that, the RCN is considering demonstrating during next year’s deployment of Kingston-class ships a number of ‘maritime domain awareness’ capabilities that would progress maritime security capacity building within the Gulf of Guinea. The concept of ‘like’ methods and training used to train ‘like’ capabilities coupled with affordable technology appears to be paying dividends.

The CAF is renowned for doing more with less. If there is a job needing doing, the men and women of the Forces will find a way of doing it with what they have. The Kingston-class ships not only accomplished this latest mission admirably but it was done cost effectively. Even though the recently released government’s Defence Policy contained no mention of replacing these 1990s era vessels, I predict that these workhorses of the RCN will be called upon for years to come. They are proving their worth, and a serious conversation is needed to either extend their lifespan or to start a replacement program.

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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.


Governor Edward Cornwallis, the founder of Halifax, Nova Scotia

No Balance

When Canada’s social experimenter, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, repatriated the Constitution of Canada on April 17, 1982, he famously made the remark, ‘For if individuals and minorities do not feel protected against the possibility of the tyranny of the majority, if French-speaking Canadians or native peoples or new Canadians do not feel they will be treated with justice, it is useless to ask them to open their hearts and minds to their fellow Canadians.’ It was a laudable goal to ensure that Canadian minorities felt protected but there were rumblings at the time that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the first part of the Constitution would cause unnecessary strife to Canada. In fact, Canada almost blew apart because of a Manitoba MLA, Elijah Harper’s opposition to PM Mulroney’s Meech Lake Accord. As a minority of one, the Oji-Cree politician opposed the Accord due to First Nations issues. His obstinate rejection ultimately led to the 1995 Québec Referendum which narrowly was won by the pro-Canada side. The tables have turned and present day Canada has been gripped by the tyranny of the vocal minority.

On July 10, 2017, a local Halifax Mi’kmaq activist threatened in a Facebook post that her group was ‘REMOVING CORNWALLIS’ the next Saturday at 12 pm. Uttering threats to destroy property is an offense according to the Criminal Code of Canada Section 264.1(1)(b) punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment. The group repeated their threat right up until the morning of the event. The authorities, led by Halifax’s mayor, Mike Savage, had no intention to uphold Canadian law prior to or on that day but instead caved to the strident minority and draped the beleaguered statue of the city’s founder in a tarp. The few police officers present appeared to be there in case of a counter-protest. Regardless of ample evidence that Governor Edward Cornwallis was not a Hitler-like tyrant bent on Native genocide, the statue’s days are numbered and it will probably be quietly removed in the dead of night similar to Confederate statues in the US Southern states. The press has been complicit in pushing the narrative because except for one excellent counter-balance article on the full history, all they focus on is the Governor’s 1749 bounty on the Mi’kmaq. Zero mention is made of the war that was being waged or of the atrocities committed by both sides. A person has to dig deep to learn of the rescinding of the decree in 1752 in an attempt to make peace. Revisionist zealots flaunt the law at will and the silent majority are being fed one-sided stories to keep them quiet.

There are a few rare individuals and groups who dare point out the hypocrisy and lawlessness of minority special interest groups. They are quickly condemned as neo-Nazi, alt-right, misogynistic, hate groups by the press and minorities in question. A group that publicly identified the threat uttering members of the July 15 event was taken to task by the press for ‘doxing’. The activist group’s transgressions were swept aside but the angle to charge this alt right group with a criminal act was fervently pursued. It was the same for members of the Proud Boys group that peacefully confronted a prior Cornwallis protest. The men were pilloried nation-wide and have probably irreparably harmed their military careers. Taking a recent example from Quebec, the rejection of a Muslim only cemetery was condemned as a racist, far right act that disappointed PM Justin Trudeau. Instead of raising the question about religious discrimination over the fact that it was going to be a Muslim only cemetery, the top politician of the land went straight to siding with the minority who will be claiming their human rights have been infringed. The message is loud and clear to the majority. If you oppose the edicts of the politically correct monoliths of the power elite and mainstream press, you will be set upon. As the vast majority of the majority just wants to go about their lives, nary a brave soul will pop their head above the wall for fear of having it lopped off in a frenzy of social media powered righteous justice.

It is only occasionally, that the majority rises up in indignation over particularly egregious decisions of our political masters and their minions. It was telling when a poll saying 71% of Canadians opposed the Amar Khadr $10.5M payout. The elites and the press came out telling us to put up with the decision. Trudeau cited Charter issues as the justification and a sudden fervor to reign in government spending. But like in a hotly contested hockey game, savvy, regular folk cried foul because they know cherry-picking when they see it.

Hypocrisy is hypocrisy and people notice. Anti-establishment splinter groups dictating who can participate in LGBT(assorted letters and numbers) parades are giving black eyes to a movement that was accepted by the mainstream for promoting inclusivity. Collectively, the rest of us are going, ‘Hold on there, we’re supposed to bend to your will but it doesn’t go the other way?!?’

Another hotspot that strikes a common chord with the masses is the occasional spat over vanity license plates. If only one person finds your plate to be offensive for whatever reason, the authorities will revoke it. ASIMIL8, GRABHER, and this list of ICBC rejected plates are all verboten for various arbitrary reasons. The rejections are all done anonymously by some triggered individual or by some faceless bureaucrat. The plaintiff faces long court battles against the politically correct State who feels free to trample on their rights of free expression on the off chance that some minority group or individual may feel offended.

This full on censorship of sensitive subjects that may ‘trigger’ minorities has been aided and abetted by our national broadcaster, the CBC. They are acting as a proxy propaganda arm for these minority groups as they have put a lock down on any sort of conversation regarding certain ‘subjects’. There is zero commenting allowed regarding the Native, LGBT, or Muslim communities. Granted, there is enough hate speech directed towards these subjects and the moderators would have their hands full deleting inappropriate opinions. But pretty much every Trump story is opened for comments which are dripping with vitriol. Supposedly, an old, rich, American white guy and his ‘privileged’ supporters are fair game for hate speech. I do not believe in free speech that masquerades as a method of cyber attacking but when you shut down all conversation, it kills any sort of dialogue designed to move an issue forward.

Maybe I should put in my own complaint for my Charter Rights of free expression being suppressed. I regularly make comments on the CBC forum boards and fairly often my content is ‘disabled’. The moderators can block it or after someone has flagged my comment, it can be blocked and deleted. For example, this particular comment was disabled four times as some individual decided to keep flagging it: ‘Trudeau is addicted to playing the Showboater Extraordinaire. All politicians enjoy the limelight and attention, it is part of the process of relentless self-promotion. But he’s all pot smoke and fancy socks with little substance. He’s been jetting around being seen by the ‘right’ crowd and making sure to march in all the politically correct parades. His office was able to shoehorn in a brief trip to the Stampede when literally a few hours away in BC there are 40,000 evacuees in a province in crisis. You can debate the value of the PM visiting a disaster scene but he was quick with the selfies while filling a sandbag in Quebec and ran up to a Northern area to discuss the emergency issues up there. But he hasn’t said word one about the BC Wildfires. I guess he’s more comfortable with special interest, in vogue causes instead of the plebian mainstream issues that affect the bulk of Canadians.’ The Ministry of Truth is making sure that only their dialogue and message makes it out to the masses.

Similar to the grassroots phenomenon that brought Trump to power in the States, I predict that Canada’s masses will eventually rise against the elite politicians, mainstream censoring press and vocal minorities who seek to push their narrow minded, special agendas. Eventually, the nail which is the tyranny of the minority will hurt the old dog enough that he/she/it/some gender neutral pronoun will get up and shake out some common sense where the needs of the few do not outweigh the needs of the many.

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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.


Men to Aspire To

I was fortunate this week to meet three men whom I would confer celebrity status to. What is depressing is in all likelihood very few Canadians would be unable to identify them and what they are known for. How about you, could you name the Leader of the Official Opposition, the CDS and the former senator best known for his work to rid the world of child soldiers?

I drove an hour to meet Andrew Scheer at a Conservative BBQ out in Brookfield, NS last Monday. He was in my top three for my balloting choices for the new leader and I wanted to see what kind of man he was in person. Well, he’s a tall fellow. For some reason that doesn’t come across when you see him on TV during House of Commons question periods. He’s definitely a family man who has a passel of kids, five, all about 12 and younger. I had a chance to say hello to his wife and had a few words with the older son, who I found to be quite intelligent and able to hold a conversation. Mr. Scheer did the obligatory speech for the crowd but kept it short and light. When I shook his hand, I had to rib him about his Roughriders losing to my Bombers during the inaugural game at the new Regina stadium. All in all, he seems like a decent prairie boy and I am happy he is the new Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Through my Royal United Services Institute of NS connections, I was able to attend the Chief of Defence Staff’s unplugged talk about the new Canada Defence Policy. General Jonathan Vance has an impressive pedigree starting from joining back in the 80’s, to commanding troops in Afghanistan, to making it as the top soldier in the Canadian Armed Forces. He is not a tall man but neither were his army predecessors Gen Rick Hillier or Gen Walt Natynczyk. I have met a few CDS’s over the years, the first one at CFB Summerside, PEI. I got to carry Gen John de Chastelain’s briefcase for a short period of time while he was visiting the air base. Gen Hillier was attending an Officer’s Mess function at 19 Wing Comox in support of a Boomer’s Legacy event. He definitely held rock star status. As for Gen Natynczkk, I was the OPI for a large mess function in his honour. He had been up for a flight with the Snowbirds and was a little green around the gills from the experience. It is always good to hear from these movers and shakers of the military as their vision by definition shapes the future of the military. Gen Vance is a consummate public speaker and was firm in his belief that contrary to the skeptics, the Defence Policy will hold the CAF in good stead for the next twenty years. I also liked the fact that he had little patience for a retired Major who was spouting nonsense over the recent ‘Proud Boys’ incident. I liked what I heard from the CDS and I feel the CAF is in good hands.

The last man that I was honoured to meet in person for the third time in my life, was LGen (Ret’d) Roméo Dallaire. It was close to a decade ago when I first met him giving a talk about Rwanda and child soldiers at the Syd Williams Theatre in Courtenay, BC. He took the time to greet as many people as he could to sign copies of his ‘Shake Hands with the Devil’ or to listen to your comments. It was obvious to me that he had the ghosts of a million Rwandans on his conscience. I met him again when he and a group of fellow senators came through Venture, the RCN training school in Esquimalt, BC for MARS officers, for a tour. Now, a few years later, I jumped at the chance to meet him again as he was giving a talk about his Dalhousie University program, Veteran Trainers for the Eradication of Child Soldiers (VTECS). Again, it must be a thing with army officers, he is not a large or tall man. Simultaneously, he comes across as frail and tough as nails. You can tell that he memorized his talking points long ago and they come off his tongue as old, familiar friends. He is also a man who doesn’t brook any guff and adroitly told a questioning twerp to ‘F’ himself after accusing him of war crimes. It has become popular for the supporters of the Rwandan perpetrators of the genocide to twist the massacre to shift blame to the retired general. This conspiracy theory has been thoroughly debunked along with the blame that the general was responsible for the deaths of ten Belgian peacekeepers at the start of the genocide. It is disheartening that along with the ravages of his PTSD, the man must put up with these unfounded accusations. As for his PTSD, according to his last book, ‘Waiting for First Light’, it seems as if death may be his only final release. I was quite impressed with the book and felt it was the best of his three works to date. I made a point to handwrite a thank you note and was able to deliver it to him at the end of the presentation. There was recognition in his face when we shook hands, even though our past meetings were very brief. I would have to say that he is a hero of mine and it has been a pleasure to make his acquaintance.

I have been a student of leaders of men for many decades. Hence, I have no interest in the show boaters or narcissistic selfie takers. It is a good week when you can meet powerful men in person to see what they are made of.

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.