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Government, Defense

Gustafsen Lake, Airborne Regiment, defense staff, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Somali man

As a state of 30 million, Canada is unlikely to be a central military power. A special joint Senate and Commons committee reaffirmed in 1994 that Canada’s existing defense policy is to oversee and protect Canada, survey and control Canadian airspace and coastal waters, and participate in multinational security operations. Canada spends 6 percent of the federal budget on its armed forces, which are intended to evolve toward greater flexibility, mobility, and affordability.

The Canadian Forces are unified rather than being divided into an army, navy, and air force. The head of the armed forces is the chief of the defense staff, who reports to the civilian minister of national defense. Under the defense staff are three major commands, organized by function: the air, maritime, and land force commands. Military service is voluntary, and there has been no conscription in Canada except for brief periods during the two world wars. Conscription measures were unpopular and were soon repealed.

Canada was a founding member of NATO in 1949, and until 1994 Canada had air and land forces stationed in Europe to support NATO. Canada also participates jointly with the United States in the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which coordinates the air and space defense of North America. On a per-capita basis, Canada is one of the world’s leading peacekeeping nations, having sent more than 85,000 service personnel to participate in various United Nations peacekeeping or supervisory operations since 1948.

Occasionally the armed forces have been used in domestic affairs. The most notable of these incidents occurred during the October Crisis of 1970, when Prime Minister Trudeau deployed the armed forces to prevent terrorist activity in the province of Quebec. The army has also intervened in protests by indigenous peoples, such as the armed standoffs at Oka, Quebec, in 1990 and at Gustafsen Lake, British Columbia, in 1995.

In the 1990s Canada reduced its military expenditures. Funding for the armed forces peaked in the early 1990s, at which time the military employed more than 120,000 people both in and out of uniform. By 1997 the numbers dropped to 61,600 for regulars and 28,700 for reserves. Funding, which was C$11.3 billion in 1994, was expected to decline to C$10 billion by the end of the century.

In general, the military does not have a high profile in Canada. Military affairs have had little impact on politics since the conscription controversy of World War II (1939-1945). Recently, however, a public inquiry into misconduct on the part of peacekeeping soldiers in Somalia revealed several cases of abuse of foreign civilians, including the murder of a Somali man. During the investigation, officers and department officials were accused of trying to cover up the incident and of tampering with evidence, but the result was the disbanding of the Airborne Regiment involved and the resignations of two succeeding chiefs of the defense staff. A new minister of defense was appointed, and his decision to terminate the inquiry before its completion has been criticized by many.

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