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German plane airlifts 58 Canadians out of Sudan as Canadian plane readies for more

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Smoke is seen in Khartoum, Sudan, Saturday, April 22, 2023. Ottawa says it’s working on ways to try evacuating Canadians out of Sudan, and is asking them to register with Global Affairs Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Marwan Ali

By Dylan Robertson in Ottawa

Canada is welcoming the announcement of a new 72-hour ceasefire agreement in Sudan late Monday, though the chief of the defence staff warns the situation in the east African country makes any evacuation operation challenging.

“We have been consumed with this over the last 96 hours to ensure that Canadians are safe,” Gen. Wayne Eyre told the Senate defence committee Monday afternoon.

But he warned that infrastructure to carry out a non-combatant evacuation operation is limited.

“The main international airfield in Khartoum is closed, any other airhead in the locale of Khartoum is very limited,” Eyre said.

“Planning is ongoing. We’ve moved forces into the region, we’ve got more, as we speak, in the air.”

Defence Minister Anita Anand told the committee that Canada is working with allies on efforts to evacuate Canadian citizens.

“We have extracted our diplomats and we are working on additional options and contingency plans for Canadians more generally,” she said in an interview.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced in a statement late Monday afternoon that a nationwide ceasefire will begin at midnight, “following intense negotiation over the past 48 hours.”

Blinken also said the U.S. will co-ordinate with other countries and Sudanese civilians to create a committee to oversee a permanent end to the fighting.

Anand welcomed the news, saying a pause in the fighting would be helpful.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provided only a limited update earlier on Monday.

“I just heard earlier today that a German plane lifted off from Khartoum with one German citizen on it and 58 Canadian citizens,” he said Monday afternoon.

“We have a C-17 in the region too, and we will be airlifting as well.”

Trudeau was speaking at a photo-op with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Ottawa, saying the recent airlift is an example of great co-operation between Canada and Germany.

Anand would not say whether Canadian Armed Forces are actually in Sudan, citing operational security.

Heavy gunfire and thundering explosions rocked Khartoum Monday in continued fighting between the country’s military and a paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces.

More than 420 people, including at least 273 civilians, have been killed and more than 3,700 wounded since the fighting began April 15, after power-sharing negotiations between the two sides rapidly deteriorated.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said on Monday that Canada was trying to contact all Canadians in Sudan who have registered with the government, and she repeated calls for anyone who hasn’t yet done so to get in touch immediately.

One Canadian in Khartoum, Waddaha Medani, said she was sent an email from the Canadian government at 2:45 a.m. local time Monday, telling her to “reserve a seat on an evacuation flight” being planned for as early as noon that day.

But because the country’s internet and phone services largely collapsed this weekend, she only got the email later that afternoon, and said she had not heard back directly as of Monday night from the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa.

“We’re already frustrated, we already don’t know what’s happening and what’s going to happen. And the communication is basically poor,” she said in an interview.

The 29-year-old said she was left mulling whether to make a dangerous trip Tuesday morning to an airbase on the outskirts of the city, where her sister in Ottawa got wind of an apparent evacuation flight.

“It’s not safe at all. You’re literally taking the chance. You don’t know if you’re going to make it or not. That’s how it is,” Medani said.

“They keep saying there’s a ceasefire at the moment. However, they’re not really respecting it. We still hear gunshots.”

As of Monday, 1,473 Canadians were formally registered in Sudan, but experts say they believe the number of Canadians in the country is likely much higher.

People in the country are facing a harrowing search for safety in the constantly shifting battle of explosions, gunfire and armed fighters looting shops and homes. Food and fuel are leaping in price and harder to find, and hospitals are near collapse.

Amid that chaos, a stream of European, Mideast, African and Asian military aircraft flew into Khartoum all day Sunday and Monday to extract foreign nationals who were moving past combatants at the city’s tense front lines.

France secured use of a military base on the outskirts of Khartoum to use as an extraction point for nearly 500 people of various nationalities who made their way there in their own vehicles or using private security firms.

Others drove hundreds of miles to the Port of Sudan on the country’s east coast, where boats can depart to cross the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia and where some nations are operating flights.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington has placed intelligence and reconnaissance assets along the overland evacuation route from the capital to the port to help protect convoys of evacuees. He said the U.S. does not have any troops on the ground.

Yet U.S. special operations forces carried out a precarious evacuation at the American Embassy in Khartoum on Sunday, sweeping in and out of the capital with helicopters on the ground for less than an hour. No shots were fired and no major casualties were reported.

Global Affairs Canada confirmed that U.S. special forces evacuated six Canadians who were either diplomats or their dependents, alongside dozens of other diplomats from various countries.

“Canada extends its gratitude to the United States for its support,” the department said Monday.

Canada suspended consular services in the country Sunday, but evacuated diplomats are working out of Djibouti to provide advice to Canadians stuck in the country, such as where they can find essentials like fuel and medicines.

They are also helping Canadians who have found their own ways to leave.

As of August 2022, the Khartoum embassy had six Canadian staff and 12 who were locally hired, according to data filed by the department with a Senate committee.

Ottawa is not evacuating its locally hired Sudanese staff, and says it is looking at all possible options to support them.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser announced Monday that his department will allow Sudanese citizens in Canada to move between temporary immigration streams so they can continue studying, working or visiting family.

“These measures would help ensure the continued safety of the Sudanese population already in Canada, keep families together and give them a safe place to stay,” a news release reads.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada will also facilitate immigration applications for Sudanese citizens in Sudan once it’s safe to travel. That means prioritizing applications for temporary and permanent residence that are already in the system, such as family reunification applications and visitor visas.

The department will also waive fees for passports and permanent resident travel documents for those in Sudan who are eligible for those documents and wish to leave.

For many Sudanese people, the ongoing airlift of foreigners is a terrifying sign that international powers, after failing repeatedly to broker ceasefires, only expect a worsening of the fighting that has already pushed the population into disaster.

The military has appeared to have the upper hand in fighting in Khartoum, but the Rapid Support Forces still controls many districts in the capital and the neighbouring city of Omdurman, and has several large strongholds around the country. With the military vowing to fight until the group is crushed, many fear a dramatic escalation.

An earlier ceasefire, which was due to run out Monday evening, brought almost no reduction in fighting.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned of a “catastrophic conflagration” that could engulf the whole region. He urged the 15 members of the Security Council to “exert maximum leverage” on both sides in order to “pull Sudan back from the edge of the abyss.”

Joly has spoken with her counterparts in both Egypt and the United Arab Emirates about the need for peace. Cairo has strong links with the Sudanese Armed Forces, and the Emirates have ties to the RSF.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 24, 2023.

— With files from The Associated Press, Jordan Omstead in Toronto and Sarah Ritchie in Ottawa.

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Federal government “not serious about defence,” warn Canadian military leaders

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From the Macdonald Laurier Institute

J.L. Granatstein for Inside Policy

“The current prime minister of Canada is not serious about defence. Full stop. A large number of his Cabinet members are not serious about defence. Full stop.”

The Communist regime in China ramps up its aggression against Taiwan, while actively interfering in the political processes of Western democracies – including Canada. In Europe, Russia wages a brutal full-scale war against Ukraine, while sabre-rattling about nuclear strikes on our NATO allies. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Arctic ambitions threaten our sovereignty in the North.

With danger all around, one would think Canada’s federal government, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, would be sounding the klaxon – rallying the country and steeling its citizens for looming conflicts with authoritarian regimes while bolstering our military for 21st-century warfare.

Alas, that seems to be far from the case, according to a pair of senior Canadian military leaders who warned recently about the federal government’s lack of commitment to and support of the military.

Over the course of four media reports that were published between May 12 and June 30, 2024, we heard the opinions of Lieutenant General (Ret’d) Andrew Leslie, and General Wayne Eyre, the Chief of Defence Staff who is retiring later this summer. Leslie, a former Liberal MP, was featured in the National Post on May 12 and again on June 30. As for Eyre, he appeared in an Ottawa Citizen article on June 20, and then in an end-of-term interview with the National Post on June 30 – just two days after the federal government announced the beginning of construction planning for the Royal Canadian Navy’s proposed fleet of fifteen destroyers.

Of these four articles, Leslie’s were by far the most important. The former Chief of Land Staff had retired from the Canadian Armed Forces to run for the federal Liberals in 2015. Elected to Parliament, he served four years – but then decided not to run for re-election. If Leslie was disillusioned, and he was, he kept silent in public until his National Post interviews. His remarks were extraordinarily blunt, but they seemingly failed to attract the public notice they deserved. Here in point form are some of his comments from his first interview:

  • “The current prime minister of Canada is not serious about defence. Full stop. A large number of his Cabinet members are not serious about defence. Full stop.”
  • “Our NATO allies are despairing. Our American friends are frustrated.”
  • “[T]he Liberal government has no intention of meeting [the NATO standard of] two per cent (by 2030) and no intention of meeting 1.76 per cent [of GDP] (as promised in the April 2024 budget) because they rest confident in the smug knowledge that the Americans will always defend us.”
  • “Since 2015, the Trudeau government has not spent, re-profiled, re-allocated, deferred, or lapsed $20 billion that was promised for defence. The impact of that is that ship fleets have not been replaced, aircraft are extraordinarily old, as are helicopters; the army is in a state of despair.”

These remarks from a former senior officer are, to my mind, devastating – much more so than those from Opposition politicians or academic experts. So too were the remarks Leslie offered on June 30:

  • “According to the numbers I have 72% of the army’s vehicles and trailers are offline…. I think the big issue is, right now, the men and women in uniform don’t see any demonstrable proof that the federal government is actually seized of the issue of trying to get them the capabilities they need to better defend Canadians.”
  • “The Liberal government sees defence spending as discretionary… They believe there’s a whole host of societal funding requirements, ranging from increases in healthcare, to day care, to children getting breakfast at school – and a bewildering array of boutique allocations of funds to cater to voter-sensitive initiatives. And defence comes after all of that.”

One area of special concern, Leslie maintained, was artillery shells, one of the many military items Ukraine needs in huge quantities. Canada, he stated, was falling down in producing them: “Canada has a tiny stockpile of 155-mm ammo…. One to two years prior to Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine in 2022, a bunch of idiots decided to cancel the standing offer [with the two Canadian manufacturers of 155-mm artillery shells] because there was no business case for Canada to continue investing in the production of ammunition.”

Leslie ended the second interview by talking of those leaders he admired: “I had the privilege and honour to be in close proximity to three consecutive prime ministers who made the system work such that we bought tanks, artillery ammunition, small arms ammunition, helicopters, guns, armour-protective vehicles, new weapons systems, the list goes on. And those were Prime Minister [Jean] Chrétien, Prime Minister [Paul] Martin, and Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper.”

The general had been a member of the Trudeau government and had worked in drafting the Liberals’ defence platform in the 2015 election. But nothing had been done to implement it in a timely fashion. In Leslie’s list of prime ministers who took defence and national security seriously, Trudeau was notably absent.

The Ottawa Citizen article, by veteran defence reporter David Pugliese, was not a direct interview with General Eyre, but rather, a report on comments Eyre made behind closed doors in a speech to senior officers. Pugliese did not have a copy of Eyre’s speech but learned of it from an audience member.

According to Pugliese, Eyre, who only had a few weeks left as Chief of the Defence Staff, sounded almost optimistic about the Liberals’ 2024 budget that pledged $8 billion in new defence spending by 2030 and $73 billion more over twenty years.

Eyre reportedly told the officers, “Yeah, this policy was not as fast as we wanted it to be. And it did not give us everything we needed. But I will tell you it’s more than I expected, much more than I expected…. The prime minister told me that defence spending is only going in one direction and that is up.”

The general also reportedly spoke of creating a small team to work out an implementation plan for the new defence policy initiatives, and that he wanted some “quick hits… I see ammunition production as one of those quick hits that we absolutely have to get on with.”

In his interview with the National Post on June 20, Eyre was at times both pessimistic and positive in his assessment of the Canadian military: “[The world has entered a] pre-wartime security environment… If you’re in uniform, you learn to be pessimistic about the security situation because you’re trained for the worst case… Given the indicators and the trends that we see, I am pessimistic about the security situation…. Is this a 1938 moment? Is this a 1912 moment? The world has seen this before, with ebbs and flows, and we’re back in a multi-polar dangerous moment where the structures that have kept us generally at peace are fraying.”

If Eyre is right, Canada should be preparing for a war that is certain to affect Canada and its allies. But the Canadian procurement system for munitions and equipment is broken – a fact that Eyre freely acknowledges: “We are applying peacetime processes and peacetime mentalities to what could be considered a wartime or immediate pre-wartime security environment. So, what did we do in 1939? What did we do in 1914? We certainly didn’t take 10 or 15 or 20 years to get capabilities in place, because the war would be over by that point…. We have to deliver, and we have to deliver fast.”

The Chief of Defence Staff then spoke optimistically about Canada’s role in Latvia, where the Canadian Armed Forces leads the NATO brigade stationed there, and where the commitment is supposed to be increased in the next few years.

“We are very well respected in that part of the world,” Eyre said. “Do they want more of us? Yeah, absolutely, but for me it drives home that we produce a pretty good product…. [Canada] has and can do so much on the world stage. Compared to the majority of countries out there, we have got so much going for us.”

On June 28, 2024, Minister of National Defence Bill Blair and Angus Topshee, the Chief of the Naval Staff, announced the government’s plans to replace Canada’s Halifax-class frigates. Fifteen new destroyers would be constructed at the government’s estimate of $56 billion to $60 billion, Blair said. The Parliamentary Budget Officer earlier had estimated the construction cost at $84 billion with a “life-cycle” cost to operate and maintain the vessels at $306 billion. In reality, Blair’s announcement was not for the beginning of construction of the ships but only for a “test module.”

Some background is needed here. The Harper Conservative government in 2010 approved the National Shipbuilding Program, but it was not until 2018 that the Trudeau government, in power for three years, selected the as yet (and still) unproven British Type 26 ship as its choice. The vessels were to be constructed in Halifax at the Irving shipyards that first had to build the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships, only completed this year (late and over-budget). Now in 2024, work at last can begin on the new destroyers.

The plan is that the first of the ships will be completed and ready for sea trials in 2033, 9 years from now and 23 years after the Harper government announced the shipbuilding program; presumably the first destroyer will not be deemed fully ready for service until at least 2034. (HMCS Halifax, the first of the frigates, went to sea in 1992, and by the time the first replacement is ready, Halifax will be 42 years old.)

But the planned completion of construction of all fifteen vessels will be glacial. Defence Minister Blair told Global TV  on June 28 that the first nine ships would not be completed until 2040 and the remaining six not until 2050. In other words, it will take a quarter century for Irving to build fifteen ships – if it is able to maintain even that production schedule. The one certainty is that the ships will cost more to build – the rate of inflation for military construction is at least 6 percent higher than national inflation. The costs will be so high for these ships that it is all but certain that fewer than fifteen will ever be launched. Will any of the destroyers still be combat effective by 2050? That seems highly unlikely.

Remember what Eyre told the National Post: “We are applying peacetime processes and peacetime mentalities to what could be considered a wartime or immediate pre-wartime security environment…. We have to deliver, and we have to deliver fast.” And don’t forget Leslie’s damning comment: “The current prime minister of Canada is not serious about defence. Full stop. A large number of his cabinet members are not serious about defence. Full stop.”

At the July NATO summit in Washington, American leaders increased the heat on Trudeau to reach the 2-percent-of-GDP benchmark for military spending. “Welcomed @CanadianPM Trudeau to the U.S. Capitol today,” U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell wrote on X on July 9. “Shared values and close economic ties have always been the strength of the U.S.-Canada relationship. But it’s time for our northern ally to invest seriously in the hard power required to help preserve prosperity and security across NATO.”

The Trudeau government will be long gone by the time the first of the new destroyers puts to sea, and it will be completely forgotten by the time the last one sets sail. We must hope that no war intervenes in the next quarter-century because Canada certainly will not be ready – and not only with its navy. “Not serious about defence”– let’s hope we will not pay a high price for the neglect of this country’s most vital national interest.


J.L. Granatstein taught Canadian history, was Director and CEO of the Canadian War Museum, and writes on military and political history. A member of MLI’s Research Advisory Board, Granatstein’s most recent book is Canada’s Army: Waging War and Keeping the Peace. (3rd edition).

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Canada unlikely to meet NATO commitments without significant debt accumulation

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From the Fraser Institute

By Grady Munro and Jake Fuss

At this year’s NATO summit, held in Washington, D.C., Canada will undoubtedly face renewed pressure by our allies to increase defence spending to reach the alliance’s spending target of two per cent of gross domestic product (GDP)—a target that is increasingly viewed as the bare minimum. Despite recent increases to defence spending, the Trudeau government has yet to chart a course that gets Canada to two per cent, and it will be hard-pressed to do so without accumulating significantly more debt than what is already planned.

The days are long gone where Canada was simply one of many NATO members that failed to meet the alliance’s defence spending target, and we are now one of only eight countries that spends less than two per cent of GDP on defence. Indeed, NATO estimates we will spend 1.37 per cent of GDP on defence in 2024. Worse still, Canada is the only country that has not articulated a plan to reach that target by the end of the decade.

It is because of this that Canada has faced mounting pressure from our allies to release a plan that gets us to two per cent of GDP—with a recent example being a bipartisan letter sent to Prime Minister Trudeau from 23 U.S. senators, urging him to make good on our commitment.

In the face of this pressure, the Trudeau government recently released an updated defence policy, which commits an additional $8.1 billion over the next five years and $73.0 billion over the next 20 years, towards national defence. As a result of these new commitments it’s expected that Canada will spend 1.76 per cent of GDP on defence by 2029/30, which gets us closer to the NATO target but still ultimately falls short.

The problem facing the federal government is that, due to its own failures to responsibly manage the nation’s finances, Canada is currently in a weak fiscal position from which to increase defence spending.

During its time in office, the Trudeau government has demonstrated a complete lack of discipline regarding federal spending and debt accumulation. From 2015/16 to 2024/25, annual federal program spending (total spending minus debt charges) is expected to have increased nominally by $210 billion (76.7 per cent), which has resulted in ten consecutive budgetary deficits. These deficits have contributed to a $986.9 billion (89.4 per cent) increase in federal gross debt during the Trudeau government’s tenure.

It’s worth noting that the large majority of federal spending increases have gone towards programs and services other than national defence. Of the $210 billion in new annual spending since 2015, just 8.1 per cent ($17.1 billion) went to the defence budget.

Based on the latest federal budget, Canadians can expect much of the same fiscal mismanagement in the years to come. Indeed, over the next four years the Trudeau government plans to run deficits averaging $29.1 billion and accumulate an additional $400.1 billion in gross debt.

Due to the poor state of federal finances, the Trudeau government has little to no fiscal room with which to increase defence spending—unless of course, it chooses to fund new spending entirely using debt or cut spending in other areas. The government has already chosen the former to pay for its recent defence spending increases, given cumulative deficits from 2024/25 to 2027/28 are $44.7 billion higher in Budget 2024 than in Budget 2023, but continued debt accumulation comes at a cost to Canadians—largely in the form of high and increasing debt interest costs.

Despite recent increases, the Trudeau government still has yet to chart a course to spend two per cent of GDP on defence. But due to the government’s poor fiscal discipline, it will be hard-pressed to reach the target without significant debt accumulation.

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