Canadian Army intervention: Who decides?

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Article / June 25, 2018 / Project number: 18-0050

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By Édouard Dufour, Adsum newspaper

Valcartier (Quebec) — When Canada and the international community are facing a major crisis, many people like to see the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) act quickly and with force. However, the conditions for deploying Canadian troops are governed in great detail according to very specific standards, while being adaptable to different contexts.

“Every CAF intervention comes with a well-defined legal framework,” explained Major Steve Winters, G9 at 5th Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (5 CMBG) Headquarters. He added that Canada advocates for respect of public international law and for joint actions co-ordinated by international organizations, such as the United Nations (UN) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Regarding decisions to deploy abroad, Maj Winters indicated that the Canadian Prime Minister’s office receives “assistance from military advisors from the Department of National Defence.”

The founding texts of the UN and NATO refer many times to the non-use of force to resolve international conflicts. However, sections of their constitutional charters allow for military action in certain cases. Article 51 of the UN Charter sets out “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations,” while Article 5 of the NATO Charter clearly stipulates that “the Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all” and may result in individual or joint reprisals.

Interventions Within Canada

CAF interventions within Canada most often consist of providing help to civilian authorities. A good example is Operation LENTUS 17-03, when the 2nd Canadian Division deployed troops to municipalities in Quebec affected by a devastating rise in water levels. In such cases, the request to intervene can be sent by provincial governments directly to their federal counterparts. Maj Winters explained that in some cases, such as “during search and rescue operations led by the Canadian Rangers in Northern Canada,” an “administrative procedure” may be sufficient to mobilize troops. He concluded that in every case, “the seriousness of the situation” and “the extent of the needs” are among the factors considered.

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