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Ministerial staff shared information about soldiers’ role in “Freedom Convoy”

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Ottawa – Emails released through a public inquiry suggest federal Liberal political aides were scrambling earlier this year to figure out the extent to which members of the Canadian Armed Forces were supporting “Freedom Convoy” protests that had gridlocked downtown Ottawa.

The internal communications are among thousands of documents submitted to the Public Order Emergency Commission, which is looking at the Liberal government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act to end the demonstrations in February.

On Feb. 15, one day after the Emergencies Act was invoked, Defence Minister Anita Anand’s press secretary, Daniel Minden, emailed fellow political staff in the offices of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino.

“Please see this internal list of CAF members allegedly involved in the convoy so far,” Minden wrote.

The email goes on to provide a “list of known members connected to protests,” including five who are specifically named and two who are not. Those not named include a special forces soldier based in Ottawa and a civilian Defence Department employee.

(All names are redacted in copies of the emails provided to the commission as “Personal Info.”)

The list also includes the individuals’ location, what action the military was taking at the moment and the results of any actions that had already been taken.

The list appears to have sparked a strong reaction from Mendicino’s director of communications, Alexander Cohen, who used an expletive in his response to Minden, saying: “How the f— many soldiers are in the convoy?”

“7-8 that we know of,” Minden replied.

Minden and Cohen did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

The email does not provide specifics about what those on the list were accused of doing, including what rules they are alleged to have broken.

It also isn’t clear how many were voicing support for the “Freedom Convoy,” and how many were speaking out publicly against the military’s requirement that all Armed Forces members be vaccinated as a condition for their continued employment in uniform.

The military has forced about 300 members out of uniform over the past year because they refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19. About 100 others have left voluntarily, while hundreds have had permanent censures put on their files.

Defence Department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said the threshold would have been “various actions that would run contrary to” the military’s rules around discipline, code of ethics, and other rules and guidelines.

“Any member of the Armed Forces who brings discredit to the CAF through either conduct or performance deficiencies, be it through actions or words, will be held accountable,” he said in an email Wednesday.

Le Bouthillier added that the military has since identified 13 cases of Armed Forces members publicly supporting the “Freedom Convoy” protests, some of whom appear to have been included in the list sent by Minden.

Those include Aviator Riley MacPherson of 19 Wing Comox, who was found guilty of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline and fined $500 after posting a video voicing support for the convoy while in uniform in February.

There is also a reference to a military police investigation of an Armed Forces member in Gagetown.

The military previously said it was investigating Maj. Stephen Chledowski after a video was posted to social media of the officer speaking out against mandates and restrictions while in uniform. The post was made during the protests last winter.

The Defence Department said it was trying to get an update on the investigation on Wednesday. Chledowski did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

One name that appears to have been missing from the list is Warrant Officer James Topp, who is facing a court martial after appearing in two videos posted on social media in February criticizing vaccine requirements for military personnel and other federal employees.

The army reservist later became a symbol of sorts for those opposed to vaccine mandates and pandemic restrictions after a cross-country march that included a meeting with Conservative MPs on Parliament Hill, including the current Conservative Leader, Pierre Poilievre.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2022.

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Canada donating four Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine

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Ottawa – Defence Minister Anita Anand says Canada will send four of its German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine “in the coming weeks.”

Anand announced the move this afternoon, making Canada the latest country to promise the heavy weapons to Ukraine.

Canada is also providing trainers, spare parts and ammunition, while Anand left open the possibility of sending more Leopards in the future.

Ukraine has implored Western allies to send such weapons for weeks as its forces struggle to make gains against Russia.

But Canada was unable to respond until Germany agreed on Wednesday that countries could re-export their Leopards.

The Leopards that Canada is donating are among the 112 currently owned by the Canadian Army, which includes 82 designed specifically for combat.

Retired military officers had warned that any donation would have an impact on the Army and will need to be replaced, given that the fleet is already stretched thin.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2023.

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Pressure builds for Canada to send tanks to Ukraine after Germany gives OK

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By Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa

Pressure is building for Canada to send some of its Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine after Germany decided to provide the heavy weapons and allow other countries to do the same.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced his government’s decision on Wednesday following weeks of hesitation that created impatience among his country’s allies, saying Berlin will send 14 of its Leopard 2A6 tanks.

Scholz’s announcement came shortly before U.S. President Joe Biden revealed plans to send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, opening a potential floodgate following weeks of pleas by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The goal is for Germany and its allies to provide Ukraine with 88 of the German-made Leopards, which would make up two battalions, and work alongside the U.S.-made Abrams in launching counteroffensives against Russian forces.

Yet while Poland has already promised to send Leopards if Germany agreed, and other European nations such as Finland and Spain have indicated a willingness to do the same, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was more circumspect on Wednesday.

“Canada has stepped up significantly and without hesitation to support the Ukrainian people, and Ukraine itself,” he said at a news conference marking the end of a three-day cabinet retreat in Hamilton.

“We will continue to be there to give whatever support we can to Ukraine. I won’t be making an announcement today. But I can tell you we are looking very, very closely at what more we can do to support Ukraine.”

The Canadian Armed Forces has 112 Leopard 2s in its inventory in a number of different variations. Those include 82 designed for combat and 30 that are used for engineering purposes and recovering disabled vehicles.

Retired lieutenant-general and former Canadian Army commander Jean-Marc Lanthier said in an interview that any donation will almost certainly need to balance the needs and benefits to Ukraine against the potential impact on Canada’s military.

“Getting rid of any tanks — because we have so few, and so few that are actively working — would have an immediate impact on the level of readiness of the Army,” said Lanthier, who served as an armoured officer.

“Is that something that should stop us from sending tanks? I think we have a moral responsibility in terms of the immediacy of the requirements of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Ukrainian people. They are fighting a war. We are not.”

Canada bought its Leopards from Germany during the war in Afghanistan. They are notionally divided into squadrons of 19 tanks each, with two squadrons in Edmonton and a third at CFB Gagetown, N.B. Most of the rest are at the armoured training school in Gagetown.

“And normally you keep a bunch of them at a depot ready to be deployed, but that’s not something we’re doing necessarily because we don’t have the numbers,” said Lanthier.

Adding to the pressure is the fact only about half of Canada’s Leopards are operational on any given day due to maintenance and repair requirements for the surprisingly complex vehicles, he added.

Department of National Defence spokesman Andrew McKelvey would not comment Wednesday on what percentage of the military’s Leopard 2s are currently operational, and how many are out of service for maintenance and other reasons.

“Tank maintenance is similar to aircraft maintenance, and the status of the fleet at any given moment depends on a comprehensive maintenance, repair, and overhaul schedule, which is tied to specific requirements for training or operational employment,” he said.

“For operational security reasons we cannot specify how many Leopard 2s are being maintained at any given time or give indication of their maintenance schedule.”

The question facing the government will ultimately be whether the benefit of sending tanks to Ukraine outweighs the impact on the military, Lanthier said. If it does, another question will be whether those tanks would be replaced — and if so, how quickly.

“If we deem that we want to retain that capability that tanks give us in terms of a modern, battle-capable army, we need tanks,” he said. “If we accept that, then anything we give has to be replaced.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2023.

⁠ — With files from The Associated Press.

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