In the year that has passed since the last Remembrance Day, six soldiers from our local army units have deployed on international missions to Ukraine, Lebanon, and Latvia. They were asked a series of questions recently to get a sense of what they do on these missions and what they’ve learned, both about themselves, their mission, and the countries that they deployed to.
By way of background, Red Deer’s Cormack Armoury is home to 41 Signal Regiment, (2 Squadron), a communications unit, and 78th Field Battery, an artillery unit, along with army, air, and sea cadets.
The following are transcripts of interviews with each of them upon their return.
Major (Maj) James Gascoyne, 41 Signal Regiment
Mission name and country deployed to: Operation UNIFIER, Ukraine (Ukraine is situated in the central part of Eastern Europe, on the crossroads of major transportation routes from Europe to Asia and from the Scandinavian states to the Mediterranean region).
Dates deployed: October 2019 – April 2020
Job/role while deployed: Staff Officer to the Defense Review Advisory Board in Kiev and later Staff Officer with the Task Force Headquarters.
First impression when arriving “in country”: Central Ukraine had temperate climate and countryside appeared similar to central Alberta. Visible contrast between new and old infrastructure. Modern buildings next to decades old Soviet era apartment buildings.
What are 3 good memories you have from your mission:
- Strong relationship with the people I worked with from Ukraine and other supporting countries
- Lasting friendships with members of my task force that I served with on Operation UNIFIER
- Being involved in the development of democratic institutions and watching a country grow.
Challenges you faced during deployment: Language barrier. The pandemic occurred towards the end of my deployment, resulting in much of the work in Kiev coming to a halt because of the closure to international travel and restrictions on the work place.
How did your deployment help/hurt your civilian employment/studies? My employer was supportive and I was able to return to my position.
What do you remember from when you arrived back in Canada? I was quarantine for two weeks at a CAF air force base before I could return home. This was actually beneficial as it gave me a chance to decompress before returning to civilian life.
Did you face any challenges when you returned from deployment? Being isolated due to the pandemic was difficult. When there was an opportunity to work for the Brigade during the spring and summer, I signed up right away.
Does Remembrance Day feel any different this year being the first one since your return? Last November I took part in a large multi-national ceremony in Kiev. This year, the restrictions on gathering will likely prevent CAF from participating in public.
What should Canadians think about this Remembrance Day? Democracy does not come free. The fight against corruption, autocracy, and apathy continues today.
Corporal (Cpl) Shane R. Kreil, 41 Signals Regiment (2 Sqn)
Mission name and country deployed to: Op Reassurance – Latvia (Latvia is in north-eastern Europe with a coastline along the Baltic Sea. It borders with Estonia, Russia, Belarus and Lithuania)
Dates deployed: 10 Jan 2020 – 10 July 2020
Job/role while deployed: Communications Operator in Rear CP and RRB Dets
First impression when arriving “in country”: Latvia is a beautiful – lush green forest covered country – reminds me most of the province of British Columbia with its tall trees and proximity to the Ocean. The people are relatively tall and slender and as a whole, generally friendly. There did seem to be a large number of run-down buildings in less densely populated areas indicative of the Cold War era pre-Latvian independence.
What are 3 good memories you have from your mission:
- The only RRB (Radio Rebroadcast) Exercise that my detachment of 3 soldiers went on was a solid moment for us – a confirmation of skills and faith in our ability to do our job well and independently. The freedom felt at that moment in time wherein we were away from the main battlegroup and left to our own devices was fantastic. It showed us that leadership had confidence in us and proved to ourselves that we could do whatever was required in that role.
- PSP Staff (Civilians hired to run certain tasks around camp) had put on a number of excursions to the surrounding area where we were able to see what Latvia and its culture were all about – one of these was a tour to the KGB museum. It was a fantastic eye-opener that gave us a glimpse into what happened to Latvian citizens during occupation and a feeling as to why they do not want to undergo similar circumstances ever again – hence the integration with NATO. This cultural awareness was a fantastic memory.
- Once again PSP was in the job of creating lasting memories – they hosted a number of Bingo events – these brought a sense of “home” to those deployed in Latvia and helped with bringing nations together – in particular relations with the Spanish who were very boisterous and enthusiastic when it came to Bingo.
What are 3 challenges you faced during deployment:
- COVID 19 was by far the biggest kick for us – I had only JUST begun my mid-tour leave – flew to Dublin, Ireland where I was to spend the next two weeks with family. Very little was out of place the first half day there though there was much talk of closure of certain events. The next day was almost surreal on a guided bus tour – going past the Guinness Factory a few days before St. Patrick’s Day – and it was CLOSED. That was the first indicator we had that this was incredibly serious and impactful – that night as I was on the phone with the family wishing them a safe flight over I got a call telling me I was being recalled to Latvia in the morning – it was heartwrenching calling the family back to tell them NOT to board the plane as I would not be there when they arrived. The next two weeks were spent in quarantine in Latvia and the remainder of the tour felt very different.
- It was difficult to intermingle with NATO personnel at times from other nations due to the difference in spoken languages, both during exercises and during off time. Though this was a challenge it was an excellent opportunity to discover ways to communicate with people whose native language is not English.
- One last major hurdle was not actually in the deployed environment but instead on the home-front. With the world being turned upside down due to Covid 19 in addition to other family matters (deaths, weddings, other personal issues that arose) it was very difficult to be in a virtual bubble in Latvia while the rest of my family had to deal with everything happening in Canada. Due to the remote location we live in there was very little in the way of support services my family could call on to assist which compounded the stresses on both family and me as a deployed member.
How did your deployment help/hurt your civilian employment/studies? Due to deployment I had essentially farmed my job out to a number of other individuals in order to keep things running during the slow season. Unfortunately Covid happened and management decided that restructuring was required – as I was deployed I was unable to compete for any of the positions worked in nor able to provide directional feedback with pros/cons and impacts to business. Upon return to work in July just in time for a busy agricultural season I was promptly demoted and moved into a modified work schedule but with no impact to my pay – just responsibility. Not all for the worse – it means that working from home can be done without concern as to what is actually happening at the branch – major adjustment to way of thinking required is all.
What do you remember from when you arrived back in Canada? It was a late return – plane landed at 2300h in Edmonton – we had to sort baggage and transport all the way to the North end of Edmonton (Garrison) in order to meet personnel that were to transport us to our home unit and from there family would meet us. It also proved difficult communicating to the family as my phone was deactivated during my tour – so messages were being relayed through others. During deployment my Regiment had undergone a leadership change and the new CO/RSM were there to meet us at the garrison – by this time is was about 0200h. After being transported back to Red Deer to meet a very tired looking family it was about 0400h and back in my home town by 0545h. I am still getting used to seeing arrows on grocery store floors and using hand sanitizer with an insane frequency.
Did you face any challenges when you returned from deployment? Minus the work adjustment and getting used to different procedures being used by day to day business challenges upon return have been minimal.
Does Remembrance Day feel any different this year being the first one since your return? Undoubtedly Remembrance Day will be different this year – not only due to many Legions not holding an official ceremony due to Covid fears but a new respect for what our predecessors fought and died for is very real.
What should Canadians think about this Remembrance Day? As Canadians even though we have a diverse history and broad spectrum of personal experiences most of us were born in a free and unoccupied country and cannot fathom a daily struggle for freedom and independence that is happening in other countries around the world even today and has happened in generations past. I would encourage Canadians to really think deeply on what it means to be free and the sacrifices made by many people to keep it this way including time away from families, hardship and difficulty with daily tasks and the ultimate sacrifice when necessary.
Master Bombardier (MBdr) Rhett Quaale 78 Field Battery / 20 Field Regiment
Mission name and country deployed to: Operation Impact Lebanon (Lebanon is located in the Middle East and bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Israel to the south, and Syria to the east and north.
Dates deployed: 14 Dec 2020 – 16 March 2020
Job/role while deployed: Land Border Regt (LBR) Instructor. Our Job was to teach the Lebanese LBRs to work, move and survive in winter conditions. For instance LOSV, Improvised shelters, how to treat cold weather injuries.
First impression when arriving “in country”: It was a bit of a shock to see firsthand how different parts of the country were, from very poor (refugee camps) to very westernized.
What are 3 good memories you have from your mission:
- Improving my own skills for surviving winter conditions
- Making new friends both from Canada and Lebanon
- Getting to see parts of Lebanon that I probably would never see if not for my deployment.
What are 3 challenges you faced during your deployment:
- Language gaps made it difficult to train and trying to convey what we were trying to say through translators
- Working with a fairly new army who aren’t as well equipped as the CAF took some time to get use to
- Being away from friends and family through life events
How did your deployment help/hurt your civilian employment/studies? I am employed full time by the CAF.
What do you remember from when you arrived back in Canada? I remember a sense of disbelief that I was home when I landed in Canada and I was very excited to see my wife and friends again.
Did you face any challenges when you returned from deployment? When I arrived back in Canada it was the beginning of COVID 19 and I had to stay isolated from people I hadn’t seen in months.
Does Remembrance Day feel any different this year being the first one since your return? I’ve always felt pride being a solider but having the opportunity to deploy has made me hold my head a little higher. I’m humbled still by the fact that there are many solders who didn’t make it back home.
What should Canadians think about this Remembrance Day?
Canadians should always remember soldiers stand for Canadian values both domestically and abroad, and that men and woman have died defending our values. As well, soldiers who have come back home with both physical and mental injuries that changed their lives forever. Remember that they went on deployment to represent Canada.
Corporal (Cpl) Courtney McKinley – 41 Signal Regiment, (2 Sqn)
Mission name and country deployed to: OP REASSURANCE – Latvia
Dates deployed: 15 JUL 19 – 15 JAN 20
Job/role while deployed: Radio operator – Forward CP
First impression when arriving “in country”: My first impression was being confused by European road signs and lights. A red light flips back to yellow before it turns green! Besides that, wondering why the Latvians did not smile more because their country is beautiful!
What are 3 good memories you have from your mission:
- We did a road move with all the multi-national armoured vehicles through the Latvian countryside. It was nice to see the locals waving and taking photos. The trees in Latvia are the nicest I have seen.
- Another signaller and I went to Latvian elementary schools for Operation Radio Santa where we used our radio’s to “call the North Pole.” I was Santa’s signaller out in the van, who happened to be an old Latvian veteran, while my colleague played the Head Elf in the classrooms. I enjoyed spending a few days away from work to make the kids happy and listen to Santa’s amazing stories.
- Working with soldiers from eight other nations was incredible because we all realized that we are not so different from one another, and that we all share similar experiences being far from home.
What are some challenges you faced during deployment:
- Keeping my focus on my job while also remembering I have people waiting for me at home. It was easier at times for me to ignore things going on in Canada, and I was on exercise for a large part of the tour, which often left me mentally fatigued in my downtime.
- Adjusting how I have been trained to operate to accommodate soldiers from other nations. It is too easy to think the way you have been taught is the best way. Every soldier has something to offer and that is why we all come together as a battlegroup.
How did your deployment help/hurt your civilian employment/studies? When I arrived back in Canada I immediately went back to university. On one hand it is great that I was not too late into the semester — I did not want to be a full year behind. On the other hand, this was a serious change of pace and I struggled tremendously to get back into my post-secondary routine.
What do you remember from when you arrived back in Canada? When the plane first landed in Canada everyone was so ecstatic because we thought we were in Edmonton…turns out we were in Winnipeg with three hours flying left. Eventually we arrived late in the night, it took forever to get our luggage and I had never been so irritable in my life. I just wanted to get home and the delays did not seem to quit. Eventually it all worked out, the logistics of these things are never as simple as imagined while overtired and homesick.
Does Remembrance Day feel any different this year being the first one since your return? Last year I really missed celebrating in Canada, it was not the same. Although all the nations were respectful, Remembrance Day does not carry the same weight for non-Commonwealth countries. This year many people are remaining inside due to the virus, which is great, but you do not see those poppies on jackets as frequently and the ceremonies will be small for safety reasons.
What should Canadians think about this Remembrance Day? The world is quite different than it was last year. With the pandemic and Canadians staying at home, it is easy for people to forget why we celebrate Remembrance Day. Canadians should think of creative ways to show their remembrance to the Fallen. Remembrance Day is a part of Canadian identity that deserves to be preserved and we can do so safely. Wear your poppy during your online conferences/Zoom meetings maybe!
Bombardier (Bdr) Levi Tanner Mee, 78th Field Battery, 20th Field Regiment
Mission name and country deployed to: Operation Reassurance, Latvia
Dates deployed: 15 August 2019 – 14 October 2019
Job/role while deployed: Command Post Technician / Signaller
First impression when arriving “in country”: First thing I noticed was how old all the buildings and roads where
What are 3 good memories you have from your mission: 1) Visiting downtown Riga. 2) Watching the live fire armoured demonstration. 3) Ball hockey tournament during Latvian Constitution Day.
What are 3 challenges you faced during your deployment: 1) Learning to use new equipment used by the Regular Force. 2) Integrating and communicating with other nations. 3) Finding time to call home due to time zone and work schedule
How did your deployment help/hurt your civilian employment/studies? Really had no effect as I was working for the army doing courses.
What do you remember from when you arrived back in Canada? Being tired from long flight and time change.
Did you face any challenges when you returned from deployment? No, I took leave then returned to working for my unit.
Does Remembrance Day feel any different this year being the first one since your return? No
What should Canadians think about this Remembrance Day? Canadians should be thinking about those who gave their life for their country and those serving overseas now.
Warrant Officer (WO) James Wyszynski 41 Signal Regiment HQ Sqn SSM
Mission name and country deployed to: Op IMPACT, CTAT, Jordan, (Jordan is bordered by Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Israel and Palestine West Bank)
Dates deployed: 07 July 2019 to 12 Jan 2020
Job/role while deployed: CQ Mentor. Imbedded into Infantry Battalion (Bn), 325 Km south of Amman Canadian HQ. 1-15 miles drive north of the ancient city of Aqaba. I Instructed and mentored Jordanian personnel on Logistic Combat Support Services (CSS). This resembles CAF administration company in Infantry Battalion.
I also taught methods of resupply by ground and air transport, convoy drill, counter ambush drill, defensive routine. Spent days with supply, ammunition, rations, medical, vehicle, and weapon spare parts to support an infantry Battalion. Introduced resupply by other methods such as donkey and camel. Aided in instruction of resupply by air and conducted joint exercise with 1 Bn Royal Gurka Regiment (Nepalese under British army)
First impression when arriving “in country”: It was very hot. Temperatures of +42C during the day and +38C at 0445 in morning. The civilian population was were welcoming as was the Jordanian Army.
What are 3 good memories you have from your mission: Each day seeing the beauty of desert land scape and camels wondering freely.
Another highlight was being invited for dinner to a Bedouin camp, where I was guest of honor, was another highlight.
Success of having Jordanian troops depart from hide at night with 37 vehicle convoy, several packets and arrive to destination on time and at correct location.
What are 3 challenges you faced during deployment: I took for granted all students could read and perform basic math. I had to teach these basic skills to them so that they could understand navigation and enable them to be deployable in the field and capable from an operational perspective.
Also, language was always a barrier and I worked closely with a language assistant. We used pictures and drawings to communicate and convey ideas.
How did your deployment help/hurt your civilian employment/studies? This is difficult to assess. The onset of Covid 19 started on my arrival back to Canada. The impact of the virus is well known and I have had very little civilian employment as an independent electrical contractor.
What do you remember from when you arrived back in Canada? That I had not gotten paid my allowance.
Did you face any challenges when you returned from deployment? Civilian Work. This however was due to the pandemic.
Does Remembrance Day feel any different this year being the first one since your return? This was my 6th deployment so it didn’t change anything. Each time I arrive back (from deployment) the county has changed somewhat. Maybe some things like different Canadian currency or store that were open are now closed.
What should Canadians think about this Remembrance Day? I feel grateful that Canada has a strong democratic society, that it is multicultural. Generally Canadian’s take some pride with having strong environmental values. Canada is open, free travel is normal and uninterrupted by the state. Freedom of speech and right to hold peaceful protest are normal. I can’t say 100% for sure that all of these things gains were given to us by our soldiers in conflicts. I do recognize, though, that without their commitment and sacrifice we would be living in very different society.
About 41 Signal Regiment: The Signal Corps in Canada originated in 1903. An independent Reserve Communication Troop was created Red Deer in 1974. As part of the Canadian Armed Forces Communications and Electronics branch, they play a critical role in the communication systems deployed in the field, and increasingly, cyber and intelligence.
About 78th Field Battery: 78th Field Battery is part of the 20th Field Regiment Royal Canadian Artillery, an army reserve unit based out of Red Deer and Edmonton. Created in 1920, it formed part of 13 Field Regiment and saw action in WW II in such places as Boulogne, Calais, The Scheldt, Wortburg, Niemejan, Millimgen.
Lloyd Lewis is Honorary Colonel of 41 Signal Regiment.
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, READ THIS! Alberta’s COVID-19 Report
From the Frontier Centre for Public Policy
By Barry Cooper
The report calls for emergency management experts – not doctors or health care bureaucrats – to be in charge when such disasters strike, with politicians who are accountable to the people making the key decisions. Most important, the report demands much stronger protection for the individual freedoms that panic-stricken governments and overbearing professional organizations so readily quashed.
Nobody needs reminding that the Covid-19 pandemic – and the official responses to it – left hardly a person, group or country unaffected. From the lost learning of school closures to the crushed businesses and ruined lives, to the recurring social separation, to the physical toll itself, the wreckage came to resemble recession, social disintegration, war and the ravages of disease all in one. Yet the governments and organizations that designed and oversaw the emergency’s “management” have proved decidedly incurious about delving into whether they actually did a good job of it: what went right, what went wrong, who was responsible for which concepts and policies, who told the truth and who didn’t, and what might be done better next time. Few countries are performing any such formal evaluation (the UK and Sweden being prominent exceptions).
In Canada, the Justin Trudeau government has rebuffed calls for a public inquiry (perhaps a small mercy, as it is hard to envision this prime minister not politicizing such an exercise). Nearly every Canadian province is also ignoring the matter. The sole exception is Alberta, which in January created the Public Health Emergencies Governance Review Panel to, as its terms of reference state, “review the legislation and governance practices typically used by the Government of Alberta during the management of public health emergencies and other emergencies to recommend changes which, in the view of the Panel, are necessary to improve the Government of Alberta’s response to future emergencies.” The Panel’s inquiry fulfilled a promise made by Premier Danielle Smith when she was running for the leadership of the United Conservative Party.
These terms of reference need to be understood because they greatly influenced what followed – both the restrictions on the Review Panel’s inquiries and the broad scope of its recommendations, released in a densely written Final Report (367 pages including appendices) on November 15. The Panel was chaired by Preston Manning, Leader of the Official Opposition in Ottawa some 25 years ago but who more recently became a prominent voice of skepticism regarding the pandemic response, particularly the dismissive treatment of Canadians’ rights and liberties. With this report Manning has driven and led not one but two major pandemic-related reviews, as he was also central in the non-governmental National Citizens Inquiry on Canada’s Response to the Pandemic, which heard wrenching personal testimony.
Despite working under limitations, Manning and his colleagues have rendered valuable and, indeed, unparalleled public services with each effort. Here one must note whom Manning requested for Alberta’s Review Panel. They are in alphabetical order: Martha Fulford, an academic pediatrician at McMaster University with numerous scholarly articles to her credit; Michel Kelly-Gagnon, a businessman and President Emeritus of the Montreal Economic Institute; John C. Major, a former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada; Jack Mintz, arguably Canada’s most distinguished living economist; and Rob Tanguay, a Calgary-based clinical psychiatrist specializing in treating addiction, depression and pain. Additional specialists prepared several of the report’s 11 appendices.
This is important because the response of Alberta’s NDP and its left-wing media helpers has been to accuse the Panel of mongering conspiracy theories and attempting to legitimize quack pseudo-science. They are using Manning, the founder and longtime leader of the Reform Party of Canada, as a convenient whipping boy. But they are effectively calling the entire panel – including a former member of the nation’s highest court who stood out for his calm and measured approach – a bunch of nutters if not worse. These critics seem to have emitted not one positive thought about any aspect of the Panel Report. That tells you a great deal about them, including that they probably didn’t even read it.
The report also prompted some balanced to favourable coverage, including from several journalists who previously were pro-lockdown, pro-masking and/or pro-vaccine. Edmonton Sun columnist Lorne Gunter, for example, termed the report “sensible and moderate,” noting that it calls for following “all of the credible science.” Gunter’s use of “all” is significant for, he notes, “a lot of what was pitched to the public as definitive scientific knowledge, such as the vitalness of mask and vaccine mandates, school closures, event cancellations and lockdowns was questioned by solid, reputable scientists (not just streetcorner anti-vaxxers and ‘I did my own research’ social-media experts).” Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid, a habitual UCP critic, also sounded impressed.
Alberta had a thoroughly designed, tested and previously deployed emergency plan. It just chose not to use it against Covid-19. This bizarre and gravely damaging decision has still not been explained.
So what is actually in the report? Chapter 1’s review of the Panel’s purpose notes it was set up to review the procedures Alberta has to respond to “any public emergency, including a public health emergency,” and how its preparations could be improved, including by broadening and deepening “the role of science in coping with future emergencies.” Its purpose was not to criticize Alberta’s actual responses to the Covid-19 event. While the Covid-19 public health emergency was the initial reason the panel was established, its recommendations would apply more broadly. And while science should be considered central to good public policy, science should not be regarded as consisting of a single narrative. Accordingly, “alternative perspectives” (Report, p. 5) should also be considered.
Alberta Emergency Management Agency
The spring 2020 spectacle of wildly shifting statements from public health officials and political leaders, its blizzard of decrees and edicts, proliferating “mandates,” haphazard changes of direction, imposition of seemingly arbitrary rules, public chaos, and sheer aura of panic – sweat-drenched faces, bulging eyes – might lead any citizen to believe that governments had never planned for or faced an emergency. The promiscuous use of “unprecedented” to describe Covid-19 only added to this feeling. In fact, Alberta had a thoroughly designed, tested and previously deployed emergency plan. It just chose not to use it against Covid-19. This bizarre and gravely damaging decision has still not been explained.
The Final Report’s largely overlooked Chapter 2 discusses improvements to the Alberta Emergency Management Agency (AEMA), making it important on several levels. The Panel recommends AEMA be adequately funded and remain the lead agency in dealing with any future emergency, including any future medical emergency. This alone is huge and hugely welcome. To ensure that individuals who are capable of dealing with emergencies and not just apprehended medical crises are in fact in charge, the Panel recommends several legislative changes to the Emergency Management Act and Public Health Act. Even better.
This sound recommendation rests upon the distinction between emergency management and normal policy decisions made by bureaucrats. The original Alberta emergency plan was developed in 2005 to deal with an anticipated influenza pandemic, and was in turn based on planning initiated across North America following the 9/11 terror atrocity. Alberta’s plan was similar to the approach followed by Sweden in 2020, which despite widespread initial condemnation proved highly successful. Its essential feature was that it was written and was to be implemented by individuals who specialize in emergencies, not by individuals with alleged expertise in the specific attributes of an anticipated emergency such as influenza or Covid-19, what the Panel on page 25 refers to as “subject-matter experts” (a more extensive quote is below).
By way of analogy, societies well-prepared to deal with emergencies do not put a limnologist in charge of an emergency response when riverbanks are unexpectedly breached and cause catastrophic flooding. Nor do they scramble to place a vulcanologist in charge when a volcano erupts and threatens lives and livelihoods. The purpose of putting highly trained emergency professionals in the lead during difficult situations is to remove as much as possible the shock effect from the surprises that emergencies typically bring, especially to normal politicians and conventional bureaucrats who expect normalcy to last forever and who panic when it doesn’t.
The emergency plan Alberta had going into 2020 was designed by David Redman, a former senior Canadian Forces officer whose 27 years of service included combat experience, a vocation that typically deals with unexpected surprises. The problem as the pandemic began was not in any lacunae that the Alberta emergency plan may have contained. Rather, as Redman, who at the time was director of Community Programs for Emergency Management (i.e., coordinating local responses), told C2C Journal in an interview in late 2020, “Governments took every plan they had ever written and threw them all out the window. No one followed the process. [The politicians] panicked, put the doctors in charge, and hid for three months.”
Redman was also emphatic on the question of fear, which is inevitably transmitted by panicked officials. He spent countless hours during the pandemic trying to warn every Canadian premier and many federal politicians that discarding emergency management principles and giving healthcare bureaucrats unprecedented authority was dangerous and would likely lead to disaster. Specifically, he urged healthcare officials and politicians to avoid expressing fear. Instead, he sadly noted in an interview with the Western Standard last week, “They used fear as a weapon. In emergency management you never use fear. You use confidence. You show confidence that the emergency can be handled and present a plan to show how this will be achieved.”
The Government of Alberta made a catastrophic and, as said, never-explained mistake when it turned the province over to a narrowly focused, unimaginative career bureaucrat credentialed only with an M.D. To be fair, this was probably too much for any one person, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw was placed in a near-impossible position. The consequences of this decision led to the removal of Premier Jason Kenney, and it is also why nearly the first thing his successor did was fire Hinshaw. That is also why the Manning Panel was commissioned.
So let us agree that the Panel’s recommendations to strengthen AEMA would improve emergency management the next time it is needed. That said, the Panel ignored the fact (or at least declined to state) that, had existing procedures been followed in 2020, things would have turned out much better.
Making Proper Use of Science – and Avoiding the Dictatorship of “Experts”
Chapter 3 deals with the place of “science” in public policy. It was self-evident to the Panel that science could help fashion sound public policy responses but could also be used for “political expedience and ideology.” Here the Panel was half-right. On the one hand it advanced a notion of “the scientific method” that dominated science classes a couple of generations ago. According to this account, a researcher develops testable hypotheses that can be modified in light of experimental results. Such was the philosophy of science that I was taught in grade 7 physics.
Its great defect is that it takes no account of what we now call conflicting paradigms or of what German Enlightenment-era philosopher Immanuel Kant called the power of judgment. A pandemic, for example, is not a “fact” but the product of somebody’s judgement. On the other hand, the Panel showed great clarity in asserting that “science is open to the consideration and investigation of alternative hypotheses…and is subject to some degree of uncertainty as an ever-present characteristic of scientific deliberations.” (Report, p. 24)
Before considering how it elaborated the problems of conflicting and alternative hypotheses and of uncertainty, one should note how opponents to both the Panel and UCP government responded to its commonsensical observations. According to NDP Leader Rachel Notley, they were “incredibly irresponsible.” Indeed, she asserted, “What you see is an invitation to normalize conspiracy theories and pseudo-science at the expense of evidence-based medical care.” Notley and CTV went on to attack Premier Smith for embracing “fringe views” – including those found in the October 2020 Great Barrington Declaration, a document written by three of the world’s most respected epidemiologists and subsequently endorsed by, at last count, 939,000 fellow scientists.
One of the Panel-endorsed “fringe views” was that “the number one priority” when a pandemic event is declared should be “protection of the most vulnerable,” (Report, p. 25) which is to say not everybody. Should a particular pandemic’s impact subsequently spread to other social, political and economic relationships, this priority may be modified and adjusted. That sounds eminently responsible, but the NDP wants everybody locked down right from the start.
Still the real question is: who would order the adjustments? The Panel’s answer is forthright, much to the consternation of scientific “experts”: “That a clear and conscious decision be made by elected officials as to the scope of the scientific advice to be sought and that this decision not be left entirely to the subject-matter agency, given that it may have a narrower perspective than that actually required.” (Report, p. 25, emphasis added) As Manning later said: “Political people have to be responsible for the overall direction and management because they’re the people that the public can hold accountable.”
Manning’s determination to avoid having a democracy become a dictatorship of “experts” also reflects a critical aspect of pandemic response: that there are issues far beyond medicine in play, and that the associated decisions are not scientific ones. Weighing risks, for example, is an exercise in logic (a branch of philosophy) and judgment, which depends on inductive reasoning. Assessing costs and benefits of various possible actions is economic in nature. And then, deciding just how much risk to take on and what costs to bear in the pursuit of benefits are questions of ethics. Such things should be undertaken by politicians because, if the people as a whole have a different view of such matters, they can vote in a different government (or, as happened in Alberta, select a decidedly different leader from the same party).
To the experts and their spokespersons, this was an anathema. Lorian Hardcastle, an associate professor in the University of Calgary’s law school and medical school, warned: “We would see ideologically driven response to a public health emergency” that would make it difficult “to keep people alive.” We can characterize the Hardcastle position, which was endorsed strongly during the pandemic by legacy media, the NDP, the “expert” class and the health care bureaucracy, as the “orthodox” doctrine. A health care emergency must be left to the so-called health care experts. Everyone else (including presidents, prime ministers and premiers) should defer to their expertise and do as they are told. The public “conversation” is entirely one-way.
In reality, however, public health does not involve just a single disease but all aspects of the health of a population. Thus, focussing on illness stemming from the SARS-CoV-2 virus was not enough even for so-called specialists because such a focus meant that, for instance, cancer screening was postponed so hospitals would be empty enough to accept the (incorrectly) projected tsunami of Covid-19 patients. Yet cancer is also part of public health, as was the collateral damage from the economic and social effects of lockdowns, school closures and social distancing, none of which the orthodox doctrine considers. Skeptics pointed out all of this throughout the pandemic – and were shouted down as granny-killers.
Alberta’s Review Panel recognized the inadequacy of orthodoxy by showing that what may have begun in early 2020 as a healthcare emergency quickly became something else with broader and more important impacts than a large number of sick persons (which only “experts” were allowed to count, anyhow). Such an unorthodox position, the Report notes, entails “a frank acknowledgement of uncertainties” which, if put into practice during an emergency, would make possible the reasonable shifting of priorities within the unfolding event, instead of “insisting prematurely on a single scientific narrative that may prove inaccurate or even wrong with the passage of time.” (Report, p. 26)
In short, the Panel argued for an acknowledgement of uncertainty (really, an attitude of humility) in the search for truth about Covid-19, whereas the orthodox “experts” preferred certainty regarding the “single scientific narrative” even at the cost of untruth (an unshakeable arrogance). This is not a new problem for political science. Historically, ideologists typically prefer certain untruth to uncertain truth, just as happened with “expert” advocates of the orthodox view regarding the Covid-19 event.
Before January 2020, that mass-population masking is ineffective was mainstream science. That lockdowns are vastly damaging was mainstream science. Mainstream science abhorred school closures. All of that went out the window. It would be more accurate to say that the pandemic response of spring 2020 consisted of ‘alternative’ science or ‘alternative’ thinking.
Here let us note that the Panel’s recurring use of the word “alternative” was unfortunate. Presumably the panellists regard it as a neutral descriptive term. But “alternative” has long been a euphemism for eccentric, dodgy or radical. “Alternative” health care is regarded as anti-medicine by many physicians. “Alternative” media are seen as buffoons if not malicious spreaders of conspiracy theories. The “alt-right” are of course white supremacists and neo-Nazis. And so on. Now, add “alternative” science to the list. The NDP and left-media, as we saw, pounced on this unforced error.
It’s too bad the Panel didn’t go with a word like “other” science, “all” science (per the Sun’s Gunter) or, more boldly, “actual” science. Before January 2020 mainstream science agreed that pandemic management should focus on the vulnerable and minimize economic and social disruption. All of that went out the window in the space of weeks. It would be more accurate to say that the pandemic response of spring 2020 consisted of “alternative” science or “alternative” thinking.
Assessing the Wreckage – and Doing Better Next TIme
The Final Report’s Chapter 4 deals with improving the regulatory structure used by the bureaucracy. It consists of detailed recommendations based on a commissioned paper by economist Gerard Lucyshyn, President of the Calgary-based Regulatory Research Institute (and available in Appendix 4), that only a public administration devotee could love or even understand. Chapter 9, on improving healthcare delivery, is similarly eye-glazing and peripheral to our main concern.
In between are chapters on school closures, government mandates such as on masking, lockdowns and vaccination, the effect of the Covid-19 event on Canadians’ civil liberties, rights and freedoms, and a chapter on other harms caused by the policy responses made by the Alberta and federal governments. Much of this discussion is entirely commonsensical and welcome. The lockdowns, school closures and all the rest did a great deal of harm, and the recommendations come as obvious to any skeptic.
Widely cited has been the Panel’s call for no more closure of schools “except under the most exceptional circumstances.” (Report, p. 47) Likewise, the Panel again criticizes “the insistence of governments at all levels with the compliance of most traditional media, that there was only one acceptable narrative explaining and justifying the response to the COVID-19 crisis, thereby disregarding and censoring other narratives.” This government-media coordination “violated freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression in a variety of ways.” (Report, p. 60)
The sources of this “one acceptable narrative” position could be expanded from government, including the bureaucracy, to include the sources of so-called “expertise” dealing with emergencies, namely the medical and law schools, neither of which in fact could make any such claim regarding actual emergency management. That is, the hands of Alberta academia are far from clean.
It is also worth noting that, even after the Panel’s work, no formal pandemic impact assessment has been conducted. Such an investigation would include a discussion of harms to general health, personal and family relations, the exercise of rights and freedoms, and employment, income, businesses and supply chains, all of which, the Report states, “may well have adversely affected more Canadians than the virus itself.” (Report, p. 70) Until such a review is made, we won’t know the extent to which governments failed Albertans and Canadians. It could be that this will never be done.
Even so, it is worth emphasizing that this Report contains many sensible recommendations. The next steps are up to the UCP caucus and Alberta government.
Too Much Magnanimity?
The Panel declared it would not blame any of the persons who so spectacularly failed to protect the provincial population, but would focus only on future improvements (Report, pp. 26, 87). By avoiding “blame” – to the Panel clearly a pejorative – it also declined to assign responsibility for what now seems unquestionably a public policy disaster. Why?
There are two apparent reasons, neither of them wholly convincing. The first was the expectation that a “restrained” discussion that avoided the entire question of responsibility would make the Report more acceptable to those still clinging to the orthodox narrative. As we have seen from the vitriolic responses of Hardcastle, Notley and legacy media, such expectations remain unmet. It is conceivable, of course, that the report might persuade some middle-of-the-road Albertans who look askance at “anti-vaxxers” but are not directly invested in the orthodox narrative.
The second reason is even more unrealistic: “The Panel wishes to officially acknowledge the wisdom and experience incorporated in much of the existing legislation, the skills and good intentions that those responsible for its implementation bring to their tasks, and the evolution of the regulatory framework overall.” (Report, p. 40, emphasis added) Their attribution of honourable motives extends to school closures, which were “no doubt well-intended.” (Report, p. 45) Moreover, the Panel also declares “that the professional colleges of Alberta…do their best to serve the public interest, and that they endeavoured to do so under the stressful conditions created by the COVID-19 crisis.” (Report, p. 78)
With all due respect, such observations are naïve and inaccurate. In Canada’s COVID: The Story of a Pandemic Moral Panic, Marco Navarro-Génie and I provide both argument and evidence that those responsible for managing the Covid-19 event did so, as Redman also says, deliberately. Their objective was to increase bureaucratic control under the guise of a healthcare emergency. Anyone who looks at what the bureaucrats and their allies in academia and the media did and still maintains that they had good intentions and did their best did not endure the same event that most of us did.
To say that the Panel avoided naming those responsible for the public policy disaster is not to advocate that the culpable be put on trial for malfeasance. That is not how politics are usually conducted in democracies. But that does not mean that they should not be named. It is not sufficient, for example, to acknowledge that “mistakes were made” when students were kept out of school and bureaucratic control at all levels was ratcheted ever-tighter.
While it’s true that the Panel’s terms of reference all-but forbade it from conducting a retrospective evaluation of the decisions and events throughout the pandemic, nobody forced the panellists to absolve and even congratulate the architects and overseers of Alberta’s pandemic disaster. This is very hard to take. Redman, by contrast, openly asserts that Alberta’s pandemic management involved “gross negligence and criminal negligence.”
Better Protecting Albertans from Overreaching Government and Out-of-Control Professional Organizations
Another observation: professional organizations across Canada – including those for lawyers and doctors – have been mobilized to shut down dissenting narratives. The problem is, those narratives are still there, uncontested and undiscussed. They recall facts that may be fragile but are also stubborn, and they are not going away. Censorship, especially after an emergency has evaporated, never inspires confidence. Here there is great cause for optimism – and reason for congratulation – in the Panel’s work.
With Chapters 7 and 8 the Panel made maximal and imaginative use of its terms of reference. First it lays a solid conceptual foundation, backed by a commissioned research paper, evaluating the degree to which rights and liberties expected in normal circumstances may be restricted during emergencies. It then finds that the management of Covid-19 unleashed sweeping violations of rights and effectively deprived people and organizations of normal avenues of civil recourse. As the paper states, “In most cases, there was a presumption on the part of the courts that the governments were justified in responding as they had to the COVID-19 emergency – a presumption that the applicants could not overcome.” (Report, p. 62)
Accordingly, the Final Report recommends additions or amendments to a host of laws, including the Alberta Emergency Management Act, Employment Standards Code, Health Professions Act, Administrative Procedures and Jurisdiction Act, Judicature Act and even the Alberta Bill of Rights. The recommended changes are significant and numerous (a dozen to the Bill of Rights alone); key examples will need to suffice.
First, the definition of what constitutes an “emergency” would be significantly tightened. The government would be required to “present its case for limiting a right or freedom expeditiously” in an emergency. Citizens could more easily seek stays of government actions that violate rights and freedoms. “[T]he right to personal autonomy and integrity” would be added to Alberta’s Bill of Rights, as would explicit guarantees to informed consent and freedom from enforced medical treatment. Discrimination based on medical status or history (e.g., opposing vaccines) would be forbidden. The right to earn a living would be enshrined. Employees declining to comply with emergency mandates could still be suspended, but no longer permanently fired. Employer vaccine mandates would become an absolute last resort after all other options were exhausted.
There is a whole section entitled “Providing Explicit Protection for Freedom of Expression, Academic Freedom and Professional Freedom.” (Report, p. 69) For example, the Bill of Rights would be amended to add, “The right of every regulated professional to engage without doctrinal, ideological or moral constraint, such as institutional censorship, in the exercise of their profession, and in free enquiry and public debate.” An identically worded amendment would cover academic institutions.
The following chapter calls upon professional colleges to be directed to revisit and tighten their definitions of “unprofessional conduct,” to recognize formally their member’s rights to freedom of expression “including on matters related to public health emergencies,” (p. 79) to make it easier for members to defend themselves against complaints and to make it easier for members to seek judicial review of disciplinary decisions against them. And, just in case Alberta’s various professional colleges refuse to implement these measures in good faith, the report (p. 81) calls for a provision enabling the Alberta government to rewrite their governing legislation.
The Panel, in short, wants to see the Alberta government enshrine strong and overlapping protections for freedom of expression, individual decision-making and independent judgment not only in private life but professional settings. Never again should doctors, nurses, any other professionals or academics be subject to retaliation, abuse or termination for expressing views contrary to the government’s or their organization’s dominant narrative – as thousands have been in Alberta and across Canada. Many such cases remain ongoing, and similar battles are raging in other professional organizations.
The Panel’s decision to reopen the Alberta Bill of Rights seems especially clever. If the UCP government has the fortitude to make the required changes, these will be much harder to undo in future than amending an ordinary and largely obscure administrative law. The left, after all, virtually worships human rights law. Further, the courts would need to take notice of rights enshrined in a law declared to be the province’s foremost law, superseding all others.
‘The public health officials, politicians, and journalists who cannot admit the failure of their lockdowns and who helped destroy the basic principles of evidence-based science want to ensure that no honest assessment is ever made.’ The same sorts of people in Alberta would very much have preferred that nothing like Alberta’s Review Panel was ever launched.
Even better, the Panel appears to have worded its proposed legislative amendments broadly enough to protect dissident professionals in all fields whose governing organizations may be weaponizing woke ideology (like law societies are now doing). If duly acted upon, this could lay the foundation for a broad counterattack by the UCP government, principled professionals and concerned Albertans on the woke-left’s takeover and degradation of professional organizations. The possibilities are little short of breathtaking.
The Real Work is Only Beginning
In a recent article Jay Bhattacharya, professor of medicine, economics and health research at Stanford University, and Martin Kulldorff, professor of medicine at Harvard University (currently on leave), two of the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, lamented this aspect of America’s post-pandemic situation: “The public health officials, politicians, and journalists who cannot admit the failure of their lockdowns and who helped destroy the basic principles of evidence-based science want to ensure that no honest assessment is ever made.”
The same sorts of people in Alberta would very much have preferred that nothing like Alberta’s Review Panel was ever launched. And while we have noted the shortcomings of this process as we see them, the Panel and its Final Report must be seen as great victories for open inquiry and the search for truth. The recommendations and key statements make it amply clear what the panellists think of lockdowns, school closures, arbitrary government by decree and concentration of power in hands that are clearly inexpert in emergency management.
In the same article, Bhattacharya and Kulldorff also draw attention to a proposal by the World Health Organization (WHO), which no sooner declared the Covid-19 pandemic officially over than it announced preparations for the next one. The WHO is pushing for an international treaty that would compel signatory nations to follow WHO directions in future pandemics (which only the WHO could declare). This is not a conspiracy theory; it is an open declaration of intent. Readers of the Manning Panel’s Final Report will discover that this sort of thing would be a very bad idea.
It is not, therefore, faint praise to say that the Final Report of Alberta’s Public Health Emergencies Governance Review Panel is among the best analyses and discussions of the Covid-19 event available to the public – anywhere in the world. It is also no exaggeration to say that the real work of avoiding a repeat of 2020 is only beginning.
Province orders dismissal of Chestermere Mayor, three councillors, and all three CAO’s
City of Chestermere/Facebook)
City of Chestermere councillors and senior staff dismissed
Minister of Municipal Affairs Ric McIver has issued a ministerial order dismissing four of the City of Chestermere’s municipal councillors and all three chief administrative officers (CAOs).
After the city failed to comply with the supervision of the official administrator and some of the minister’s directives that have been in place since March 15, 2023, Minister McIver has dismissed Mayor Jeff Colvin, Coun. Mel Foat, Coun. Blaine Funk and Coun. Stephen Hanley, as well as the three CAOs.
The directives, intended to restore good governance to the City of Chestermere, were issued following a municipal inspection. Since then, the city has continued to be managed in an irregular, improper and improvident manner.
“The directives issued by my predecessor are not onerous and represent the bare minimum that citizens ought to expect from their municipal government. However, after undertaking all reasonable efforts to have the city comply with its obligations, it has failed to do so. I am profoundly disappointed that it has come to this, but the people of Chestermere deserve better. This community should be able to have trust in its local elected government.”
While the minister determined that the city has failed to comply with its obligations, he has also determined that dismissal of Coun. Shannon Dean, Coun. Sandy Johal-Watt and Coun. Ritesh Narayan was not justified given their efforts to hold council to account and attempt to move council in a more positive direction toward proper governance practices and compliance with legislation.
Councillors Dean, Johal-Watt and Narayan remain as elected councillors but will have no role in the governance of the city until a byelection is held and council quorum is restored.
The ministerial order dismissing Chestermere council members and senior administration is effective Dec. 4. An official administrator and interim CAO are in place to oversee the City of Chestermere’s governance and operations until a byelection is held to elect new councillors for the vacant positions at a date to be determined in 2024.
- A municipal inspection was ordered by the minister of Municipal Affairs under the Municipal Government Act (Section 571) in May 2022.
- The independent inspection, which concluded in September 2022, found the City of Chestermere to be managed in an irregular, improper and improvident manner.
- An official administrator was appointed in September 2022 to supervise the municipality and its council.
- On March 15, 2023, the minister of Municipal Affairs issued 12 binding directives through a ministerial order requiring the City of Chestermere to take action to address key areas of concern.
- On Oct. 18, the minister of Municipal Affairs issued to the City of Chestermere a notice of intent to issue a ministerial order which would dismiss all seven council members from office, as well as all three CAOs.
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