There are not many military threats that directly loom over Canadians as the country heads into the new year.
But of those that do, one of the most significant is the increased frequency of major natural disasters.
In a year-end interview with the West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance said while there are a number of threats that are evolving and taking shape, one of the most concrete ones the military is facing right now comes from Mother Nature herself.
“There are very few large military threats to Canada,” he said.
“There are certainly threats that are evolving right now that can reach Canada, be they missiles or threats against our cybersecurity, threats to our oceans and to our shores. We face a significant threat almost every year now with natural disasters, forest fires and floods and so on that affect Canadians. So in our role to defend Canada and protect Canadians, that’s been significant.”
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The military gets called in to help with the response to natural disasters when those disasters overwhelm provincial authorities, which have the first responsibility to respond when things like floods, forest fires or ice storms hit.
Military responses to natural disasters happen under what’s known as Operation Lentus.
In 2018, the military deployed to six natural disasters after provincial authorities in all cases determined the scale of the damage was too much for them to handle alone.
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Those disasters included the winter storms in Eastern Quebec and the Iles-de-la-Madeleine in November, sending hundreds of soldiers and transport aircraft to assist with evacuations from the B.C. and Manitoba forest fires and deploying to take on the heavy spring flooding in B.C., New Brunswick and on the Kashechewan First Nation.
Forest fires and severe flooding saw the military also respond to six disasters last year.
Both represent sharp increases compared to years past as climate change continues to cause more extremes that result in the droughts, storms and thaws behind things like dangerous forest fires and floods.
In 2016, for example, the military only deployed once: to the devastating Fort McMurray wildfires.
They deployed twice in 2015, four times in 2014, once in 2013, three times in 2011 and once in 2010.
In addition to continuing to deploy to missions overseas, the added demands on responding to disasters at home mean the military will need to increase recruitment or start to feel the strain, Vance said.
And in an uncertain world, the circumstances around those missions continues to evolve.
Most recently, Russia attacked three Ukrainian naval vessels passing through the shared territorial waters of the Kerch Strait.
Dozens of Ukrainian sailors on those ships were detained by the Russians as prisoners of war.
Vance said while that kind of aggression from Russia doesn’t directly impact Canadians deployed in the ongoing training mission in Ukraine, it does factor into considerations of what they are ultimately going to be able to achieve.
“It raised the stakes somewhat,” he said. “It hasn’t affected this mission Operation UNIFIER at this juncture, but it doesn’t point to a peaceful and ultimate resolution of Ukraine that we’d like to see.”
The 24 detained Ukrainian sailors have yet to be released.