HALIFAX – British soldiers training in Canada will soon be firing at foam targets with names like “Bosnian Male RPG” and “Somali Male AK 47”.
A notice of procurement published on the Government of Canada’s website on Feb. 24 shows an order for 650 of the targets with ethnic descriptions that some are calling offensive.
After Global News questioned the government about the targets, the descriptions were quietly removed.
Global News captured screenshots of the tender before and after the changes were made:
In a statement, a media liaison with the Department of National Defence (DND) said, “DND requested that the product codes be removed when the impropriety of their descriptions was brought to our attention. We have also contacted the vendor, who are reviewing their catalogue as a result.”
The words “Bosnian Male” and “Somali Male” have been removed, but the initials “BM” and “SM” remain. While the descriptions are gone, the purchase still appears to be going ahead.
Members of the Bosnian-Canadian and Somali-Canadian communities said they are offended by the targets, which are purportedly designed to look like them.
“This is very humiliating for our tiny community here in Canada,” wrote Midhat Cehajic of the Bosnian Canadian Relief Association in an email.
“Most people of the Bosnian Canadian Community have escaped the Bosnia Genocide 1992-95. Many of them went through concentration camps and found Canada as a safe haven.”
Who’s buying the targets?
The financing for the purchase is complicated. The tender shows Canada will pay $51,870 for the targets, but a Canadian Forces media liaison said Britain will reimburse the full cost.
The targets will be used at CFB Suffield, located near Medicine Hat, AB. The base is used by the British Army as an overseas training venue.
An official with the British High Commission in Ottawa offered an explanation for the targets’ specific nationalities.
“A mixture of ethnic appearance to provide our trainers with the ability to replicate situations where enemy combatants are mixed with friendly forces, indigenous forces, local populations and refugees is extremely valuable,” said Brigadier Jonathan Calder-Smith, the Head of British Defence Liaison Staff at the British High Commission in Ottawa.
“Targets are sometimes placed specifically to test the judgement of the training audience, in that they must not be fired upon and are there to provide further judgemental training,” he added.
What do the targets look like?
A company called Strategic Operations, based out of San Diego, Calif., manufactures and distributes the targets.
Strategic Operations’ public catalogue does not list “Bosnian” or “Somali” targets, but customers can request them, the company confirmed.
A sample of some of Strategic Operations’ live fire targets:
A person working for Strategic Operations, who asked not to be named, confirmed the company does sell targets described as “Bosnian” and “Somali”.
“We named the targets years ago,” the employee said. “It’s a general description to reflect a geographic area.”
The explanations from Strategic Operations and government officials did not assuage the anger felt by some Bosnian-Canadians.
Cehajic said Canadian and NATO troops saved his family’s life in the 1990s during the Bosnian Genocide.
Two decades later, Canada is arranging target practice on behalf of a NATO ally with targets designed to look like Bosnians.
“Our small community here cannot believe it,” he said.