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Wounded Canadian veterans pressed to not criticize military on social media

RT | September 21, 2013

The Canadian Armed Forces requires physically and mentally wounded service members to sign a form agreeing to not criticize senior officers or demoralize other troops on social media sites.

The form is given to wounded soldiers transferred to the Joint Personnel Support Unit (JPSU), which oversees support centers for troops across Canada. The JPSU has received public scrutiny in recent months, as soldiers and staff have been vocal about the lack of resources and dysfunctional support centers.

Service members gave the social media policy form to the Ottawa Citizen, expressing dissatisfaction over what they saw as a threat to their right to voice criticism of the Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) for lackluster care.

The JPSU told the Ottawa Citizen that the policy was not made to defer criticism of officials, but rather “to educate our members and personnel on what constitutes the appropriate and inappropriate use of social media and the possible ramifications for a CAF member.”

The “policy on proper comments on social media” forbids posting secret information on websites or forums, but also advises military personnel to avoid disparaging senior officers or CAF members.

In addition, the policy tells service members not to “write anything that might discourage others or make them dissatisfied with their conditions or their employment,” nor to offer “your views on any military subject.”

The policy form indicates that violating the social media rules could damage public trust in the CAF and “destroy team cohesion.”

The form, only six months old, mentions that soldiers in the JPSU can also be held responsible for social media content of friends they have “tagged” on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs and other sites.

While the CAF has a general social media policy for all service members, the Ottawa Citizen said that all personnel they interviewed were never made to sign a form like the one given to JPSU soldiers.

The CAF responded to questions about the form, saying the policy is issued to all JPSU members. However, the spokesperson could not offer specific examples of improper social media use.

“It is important for all CAF members to understand and follow the policies, rules, regulations and standards of conduct that apply to members of the CAF, including the policy on the use of social media,” public affairs officer Navy Lt. Michèle Tremblay wrote to the Ottawa Citizen.

Members of the Canadian military “are encouraged to communicate publicly about their own experiences and expertise, in accordance with the Government of Canada and DND/CAF policy,” Tremblay noted.

If a service member refuses to sign, JPSU staff will note that the individual has been briefed about the unit’s social media policy. Various units have their own way of notifying personnel about CAF protocols, Tremblay said.

“The difference being that the JPSU is asking members to indicate that they have read and understood the policy by signing the form,” she said.

Former CAF officers see the form as a way to intimidate members who were injured for speaking up about substandard treatment.

“It’s not illegal but it’s obviously a threat,” said Ottawa lawyer and former military officer Michel Drapeau, who has represented injured soldiers seeking benefits from the Canadian government. “The criticism about the leadership’s failure to take care of the wounded is obviously hitting home.”

He said that personnel likely feel compelled to sign, and that it would certainly be used against them if they violated the policy.

Retired air force officer Sean Bruyea said the CAF has the right to steer service members’ behavior on social media, but says the JPSU effort goes too far.

“This is right out of something you would see during the Soviet era,” said Bruyea, a critic of how the military and government assists wounded personnel. “This is way over the top.”

September 21, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Harper promotes Canadian militarism

By Yves Engler · August 16, 2013

The Conservatives’ militarism is unrelenting.

Last month the Harper government launched a Civil Military Leadership Pilot Initiative at the University of Alberta. The program “allow[s] people to simultaneously obtain a university degree while also gaining leadership experience in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Reserves.” The four-year Civil Military Leadership Pilot Initiative will be “co-directed by the University of Alberta and the CAF” and the government hopes to export this “test model” to other universities.

The program is an attempt to reestablish the Canadian Officer Training Corps, which was offered at universities from 1912 until 1968. According to Lee Windsor, deputy director of the University of New Brunswick’s Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society, the Canadian Officers Training Corps program “introduced university undergraduates to a form of military service on campus, providing them with leadership and other military training and preparing them to join the reserve or the regular force if they wished to do so.”

This latest move onto campus is part of a multifaceted effort to expand the military’s role in Canadian society. When the Conservative government updated the citizenship handbook, ‘Discover Canada: the Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship,’ they added over a dozen photos of armed forces personnel. Citizenship and Immigration Canada also decreed that citizenship ceremonies include a military speaker. Introduced at the start of the ceremony, the veteran should declare: “As a Canadian citizen, you live in a democratic country where individual rights and freedoms are respected. Thousands of brave Canadians have fought and died for these rights and freedoms. The commitment to Canada of our men and women in uniform should never be forgotten.”

Huge sums of public money have been spent promoting the military at Canada Day festivities, the Calgary Stampede, the Canadian National Exhibition, Santa Claus Parades, the Grey Cup, NHL hockey games and other cultural and sporting events. Of recent, the Canadian Forces have been spending over $350 million a year and directing 650 staff members to carrying out these public relations efforts.

The federal government’s deference has gone to the military’s heads. Five years into the Conservative government, the Canadian Forces openly proclaimed that it should determine public opinion. In November 2011 Embassy reported: “An annual report from the Department of National Defence says Canadians should appreciate that their values are shaped in part by their military. That represents a shift from past annual departmental reports that said departmental activities were informed by Canadian interests and values. Now it’s the other way around.”

While strengthening the military’s role in the cultural and ideological arena, the Conservatives have also taken a decidedly pro-military position on arms control. Ottawa has refused to ratify the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which is designed to limit weapons from getting into conflict zones or into the hands of human rights violators.

The Harper government also watered down Canada’s adherence to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The director of the Cluster Munition Coalition, Laura Cheeseman, explained “Canada cannot claim to have banned cluster bombs when it proposes to allow its military to help others use the weapons, and even leaves open the possibility of Canadian forces using them.”

Along with its ambivalence towards UN arms control measures, the Conservatives have expanded the list of nations that Canadian defence companies can export prohibited weapons to. In April 2008 Canada’s Automatic Firearms Country Control List was increased from 20 to 31 states and in December they added Colombia, the worst human rights violator in the Americas, to the List. Now, they are looking to add four more countries to the Automatic Firearms Country Control List.

The Conservatives have helped military companies in numerous other ways. They have been supporting the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries, the arms industry’s main lobby group, through grants and dedicated trade commissioners. CADSI is also benefiting from direct political support. Senior representatives from the Department of National Defense, the Canadian Forces, Foreign Affairs and the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) have participated in recent CADSI trade missions. After a December 2011 visit to sell weapons to the Kuwaiti monarchy, CADSI president Tim Page applauded what he described as the Conservatives “whole of government effort.”

During the Harper reign the CCC, whose board is appointed by the government, has taken on a more expansive role as a go-between on military sales with foreign governments. According to a June 2011 Embassy article, “the Canadian Commercial Corporation has been transformed from a low-profile Canadian intermediary agency to a major player in promoting Canadian global arms sales.” Traditionally, the CCC sold Canadian weaponry to the US Department of Defense under the 1956 Defence Production Sharing Agreement but during the Conservative government it’s begun emulating some aspects of the US defence department’s Foreign Military Sales program, which facilitates that country’s global arms sales.

In June of last year, Embassy noted: “In the last few years, the Canadian Commercial Corporation, a Crown corporation, has helped Canadian firms sell everything from military hardware and weapons to wiretapping technology, forensics for ballistics, surveillance, document detection, sensor systems, bulletproof vests and helmets, training, and other services.” According to CCC president Marc Whittingham, who wrote in a May 2010 issue of Hill Times that “there is no better trade show for defence equipment than a military mission,” the agency is “partnering with government ministers to get the job done.”

The Conservatives have worked hard to expand Canadian arms sales as well as to convince the public that it should support this country’s military-industrial complex.

August 16, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Militarism | , , , | 1 Comment

Canada turns blind eye to cluster bomb treaty

By Michael Swan | The Catholic Register | May 16, 2012

Banning cluster bombs but then allowing Canadian pilots to drop them, Canadian soldiers to transport them and Canadian commanding officers to order them into the battlefield makes no sense, says the man who negotiated Canada’s participation in the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Former arms treaty negotiator Earl Turcotte, who led Canada’s effort to negotiate the Convention on Cluster Munitions, is warning Canada has misrepresented its signature on the 2010 treaty by proposing enabling legislation with very wide exceptions.

“It certainly, I think, misrepresents the position that we and other like-minded countries took during the negotiations,” Turcotte told The Catholic Register. “I expect Canada is going to get raked over the coals, and deservedly so at this point.”

Canada signed the international treaty in Oslo, Norway, on Dec. 3, 2008 — one of the first nations to do so. It took until April 26 for the government to table legislation that would ratify that signature. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs media relations staff it took more than three years because “Canadian officials needed to finalize the necessary documentation for cabinet’s decision.”

For the sake of interoperability with American forces, the enabling legislation allows Canadian commanders on joint operations with U.S. forces to order American soldiers to use cluster bombs, allows Canadian pilots on secondment with American forces to drop cluster bombs, allows Canadian forces to transport the weapons into the field of battle. While most of the 111 countries that have ratified the treaty have banned investment in companies that produce cluster bombs, Canada has not. The enabling legislation also does not ban transport of cluster munitions through Canadian airspace or territory.

When Turcotte learned the contents of the bill he quit his job with foreign affairs to dedicate his time to persuading Parliament to seriously revise Bill S-10. Turcotte and the NGO Mines Action Canada have launched a petition asking Parliament to “make it clear that no Canadian should ever be involved in the use of cluster munitions for any reason, anywhere, at any time, for anyone.”

Banning cluster bombs, which have killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of civilians and very few soldiers, has been a cause close to the Vatican’s heart. The Holy See was part of a core group of countries that steered the Oslo process which produced the treaty — a role Canada had assumed a decade earlier with the anti-personnel land mines treaty.

Pope Benedict XVI has spoken several times about the immorality of cluster bombs. When the Convention entered into force in 2010, Benedict exhorted all states to comply with the treaty.

“The international community has demonstrated wisdom, foresight and the capacity to pursue a meaningful result in the field of disarmament and international human rights,” he said Aug. 1, 2010. “The logic of peace is stronger than the logic of war, which in every case must have as an insurmountable limit the protection and preservation of the civil population and particularly the most vulnerable people.”

“The moral issue is that if you’ve got a ban, a complete ban, and you’ve signed a treaty that says you support the concept of a complete ban, then how can you morally justify coming back and say ‘Yes, we ban this, but…’ ” said Mines Action Canada executive director Paul Hannon. “You can’t have it both ways. It’s morally ambiguous. You want to ban something and you want to help somebody use it.”

The exceptions in Bill S-10 are based on Article 21 of the Convention — an article that Turcotte himself wrote. Article 21 was intended to allow NATO countries to continue to work with U.S. forces. The United States, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea, China and Russia are the major non-signatory states.

“The scope of the exceptions was very narrow,” said John Seibert, executive director of Project Ploughshares, an ecumenical think tank on defence and disarmament issues.

“This is a wide open door… It really defeats the primary purpose of the treaty.”

“The Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act fully implements Canada’s commitments to the Convention, and strikes a good balance between humanitarian obligations while preserving our national security and defence interests,” the foreign affairs media department told The Catholic Register in an e-mail. “Canada’s position is based on Canada’s own humanitarian and security and defence requirements.”

The media lines from the government are illogical, according to Turcotte.

“This makes no military sense and no moral sense,” he said. “Whether it’s a sin of commission or a sin of omission, when one is using a weapon with full knowledge that it is going to cause extensive collateral damage both at the time of use and also post-conflict because of the high dud rate, then as far as I’m concerned that’s an abrogation of our responsibilities under military law, let alone humanitarian law.”

One academic study found that 98 per cent of all recorded casualties from cluster munitions have been civilians. The Geneva Conventions require soldiers to ensure civilians are not targeted, said Turcotte.

Asked whether cluster munitions are immoral, foreign affairs answered: “They have been used in approximately 34 countries and territories to date, often with devastating impact on civilians due to their wide-area effect and to sub-munitions failing to explode.”

Hannon believes the Department of National Defence never wanted the treaty and won out in interdepartmental lobbying over the enabling legislation.

“Then they just got carried away and started saying not only would clusters be allowed to be used but we would assist in using them. I think they’re playing, they’re twisting around legal definitions and creating a legal pretzel,” Hannon said.

July 21, 2012 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , | Comments Off on Canada turns blind eye to cluster bomb treaty