Canada & Imperialism: “our job is to…kill people”


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

'Operation Objection'
As drive for new enlistees picks up, so does 'counter-recruiting.'

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By Derrick O'Keefe
Published: November 16, 2006

"We are the Canadian Forces, and our job is to be able to kill people" -- 
General Rick Hillier, July 13, 2005.

With these words, the head of the Canadian Forces opened what has become a 
sustained campaign to transform the nature of this country's army. Hillier's 
statement was also a very public salvo in the ongoing effort to put Canada's 
foreign policy on a permanently more aggressive footing.

The former Liberal government -- Paul Martin and company quietly and without 
parliamentary debate announced the Canadian mission to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in
May 2005 -- seemed to endorse the outspoken general's views. Stephen Harper, 
since winning a minority government in January 2006, has acted like he has a 
majority, at least on the international scene, pushing an extension of the 
Kandahar operation until February 2009 through parliament on short notice.

Operation Connection

Top officials with the Canadian Forces have acknowledged that the deployment to 
Kandahar, where Canada is engaged in a violent counter-insurgency, requires an 
increase in recruiting. They have set out to draw more young people to the 
Forces in a variety of ways, aided by substantial budget increases for their 

A recent Canadian Forces Personnel Newsletter outlined Hillier's vision: 
"Recruiting is everybody's business. I expect every sailor, soldier, airman and 
airwoman to recognize their role as a potential CF recruiter..."

The newsletter instructs local recruiters to meet the public wherever they are, 
prioritizing festivals and events where young people congregate. The language is
replete with buzzwords, and could well be PR notes for most any profession:

"To connect with all Canadians, the CF has to be present at events throughout 
the country, and the CF is you. With your help and support, the "connecting with
Canadians" blanket can be stretched to cover the country.

"We also need you to provide the best possible representation of the CF -- 
yourself. Wearing your uniform to work is good; wearing your uniform to work on 
the bus is great. Tell people what you do for a living, and that you enjoy it, 
and that it's exciting and challenging and rewarding."

This year alone, in Vancouver, for instance, the CF has been present at the Sikh
Vaisakhi parade, the Dragon Boat Festival, Aboriginal Day festivities and the 
Pacific National Exhibition, in addition to the usual Canada Day events, and 
campus and public school career fairs. The army has also been openly targeting 
increasing the number of immigrants enlisted, even considering allowing landed 
immigrants to sign up -- perhaps with a fast track to citizenship as a reward. 
Hillier, in his distinct, colourful style, explained the significance of the 
whole effort while commenting on the recruiting of immigrants: "We've thrown, if
you will, a transformational grenade in the middle of our recruiting process."

Most recently, the pin has been pulled on rather stark -- perhaps even 
frightening -- TV ads urging young people to sign up. In all, an additional $15 
million has been allotted for recruiting efforts this year alone.

Operation Objection

Although all this recruiting coincides with a long-term project to transform the
Canadian Forces, the immediate urgency is due to the increasingly deadly 
situation in Afghanistan. As of the end of October, 43 Canadians have died, with
scores more wounded. Reinforcements of additional troops have been deployed, 
along with tanks and other heavy weaponry; there is also speculation that CF-18 
fighter jets could soon be sent to Afghanistan. NATO bombing raids have 
routinely claimed the lives of a significant number of Afghan civilians.

The army's glossy recruiting campaign doesn't necessarily make the connection 
between a young person's decision to enlist and the war in Afghanistan, and it 
certainly doesn't highlight critical points of view on matters like the 
connections between the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and empire-building and 
its concomitant drive for control of energy resources. This is where the concept
of counter-recruiting comes in.

Like any profession, the army as an employer highlights the benefits of working 
for them, giving minimal emphasis to personal risk and moral or political 
ramifications. Operation Objection is an effort that has been launched to 
balance the information being provided to young people about the army and our 
foreign policy. Initiated by the organization Act for the Earth, and supported 
by a number of peace groups across the country, it seeks to dispel myths and to 
provide information about the reality of Canadian policy. This brand new 
campaign's website already has a wealth of important resources, including 
introductory booklets on the issue.

Educators in the public school system, where the military regularly participates
at career fairs and other special events, have a responsibility to seek out and 
make available information about potential hazards and the political issues 
surrounding enlisting, including vital context about Canada's current role in 

Former soldiers, families speak out

One way that educators and others who work with youth can bring a critical 
perspective to this issue is by making available dissenting voices from within 
the military community itself. This past summer, for instance, Francisco Juarez,
an officer in training who had intended to one day serve in Afghanistan, 
resigned from the army in order to be able to publicly speak out against the 
war-making operation in Kandahar.

In another recent development, military family members from across the country 
have begun to voice criticisms of the Afghan mission. Victoria's Chris Craig, 
father of a CF active member, explained his concerns:

"I am completely opposed to my son being used as ground fodder for an 
undisclosed reason. I want to know why we're there. The arguments that have been
thus far presented don't do it for me. They do not explain why my son and his 
friends should be maimed or killed in a far-away country."

Before more young people are signed up as "ground fodder," they at a minimum 
deserve to be presented with some critical analysis of the country's military 
and foreign policy. Operation Objection and efforts like it are emerging along 
with a sizeable movement across the country to bring the troops home from 
Afghanistan. On Oct. 28, for instance, 37 Canadian cities and towns held rallies
with that demand.

Debate on this key issue should not be shunned, but rather fostered and 
encouraged, especially in our public schools. After all, our middle-aged 
politicians and generals, like Harper and Hillier, may send the troops to war, 
but it is overwhelmingly the young and the economically less advantaged that 
have to kill and die on the battlefield.

Related Tyee stories:

  € The Real Casualties of War
  € US Army Deserter Fled Iraq for New Life in Canada
  € Taliban Tenacity

Derrick O'Keefe is a recent B.Ed. grad from UBC and is co-chair of the Vancouver
peace coalition

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