by James Stairs
On Jan. 18, a day when 20,000 Montrealers took to the streets to peacefully
protest a potential invasion of Iraq, 80 students from across Canada gathered
at a conference to discuss many of the same issues. They were attending
the opening session of the Canadian Political Science Students Asso-ciation
In the de Sève Cinema, Dr. Joel Sokolsky, Dean of Arts at Royal
Military College (RMC) presented an argument that Canada should restructure
its commitment to peacekeeping missions around the world, and acknowledge
our true relationship with the United States.
Sokolsky began by quoting from a government document which outlined a
number of issues that mark Canadian-U.S. relations: There is an
underlying fear in Canada that the U.S. is too impatient and too quick
to enter into a war. The document also noted that there is a latent
anti-American feeling in our country.
These quotes come from a Privy Council paper dated June 28, 1951,
he told the delegates. Obviously, its not a new issue.
Rather than adopt an adversarial tone, Sokolsky said, we should acknowledge
that Canada follows U.S. defense policy, because the two countries are
natural allies. We benefit from American policy because that country acts
in its own self-interest. The reality is that America must defend
Canada to defend itself.
Canadas real contribution to the United States is the fact that
we lend ourselves as allies, he said. American calls for more funding
on behalf of Canadians were due more to domestic politics in the U.S.
than actual concern about Canadian defence spending.
Canadian policy has become so close to that of the U.S. that it can be
argued that Canada be excused from overseas commitments, and
devote its resources to protecting its own borders. It used to be
that the over there was more important than the over
here, but this is no longer the case.
After his lecture, Sokolsky was joined in a panel discussion.
Julian Schofield, of Concordias Political Science Department, commented
that increasing the national defence budget represented a minimal political
payoff for the government. An election will not be won or lost over
funding the DND, he said. In Canada, there is no collective
shock. We havent had a Pearl Harbor or 9/11 that would spur
Schofield suggested that it was time to end peacekeeping altogether. The
practice of peacekeeping came out of the idea that we needed to avoid
nuclear war and later to stop genocide, but the Cold War ended and Canada
doesnt have the political clout to stop genocide.
Advocating a brand of expeditionary anti-terrorism as a potential
new direction of Canadas military forces, Schofield suggested that
Canada could act in a pre-emptive manner, sending soldiers on missions
to locate weapons of mass destruction around the world so as to prevent
their being used. Military policy should be anticipatory and adapted to
the realities of a changing world.
Daniel Bon, the Director-General for Policy-Making at the Department of
National Defence, argued that Canada should not change the nature of peacekeeping
missions. He did express concern that Canadas efforts overseas were
not being noticed by the global community, and in particular, the European
Citing Canadas presence in Bosnia as an example, Bon said the
United States had no ground troops and got the credit. Canada had two
battalions and got none. Nonetheless, Bon said, the DNDs commitment
to peacekeeping was solid.
The safety of Canadas troops was clearly a major concern for the
panelists. Another speaker, Stephane Roussel, chair of Canadian Foreign
Policy and Defense Research at the Université du Québec
à Montréal, noted that the Canadian people have never
paid the price for a lack of funding, but the Canadian forces have paid
Sokolsky added that he thought it was essential that military policy-makers
avoid what he called the Dieppe mentality, [in which] unprepared
troops are deployed for political reasons. Military policy had to
be reviewed to avoid the scenario in which politicians have the ability
to glibly send our troops into danger.
In the afternoon session, delegates split up in to two groups to follow
up on the ideas from the morning. Students gave short presentations to
begin the debates and each participant was encouraged to contribute to
I really found these sessions interesting. There are a lot of different
perspectives in this room, said Tsui, a student from the University
Captain André Berdais, a public affairs officer with the DND, sat
in on the conference and said that the debates offered his department
valuable information as to how the Canadian military is seen by civilians.
The DND contributed to the conference both financially and logistically.
Were always listening and want to hear what Canadians expect
from our department, and we really appreciate input we got this weekend.
Concordia student Melanie Anestis, co-coordinator of the conference, was
pleased with both the attendance and the feedback.