Tag Archives: Canadian forces

Canadian military wants to establish new organization to use propaganda, other techniques to influence Canadians

Minister of National Denfence Harjit Sajjan (C) and Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance (R) listen as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L) speaks during a news conference January 9, 2020 in Ottawa, Canada. PHOTO BY DAVE CHAN / AFP

The plan comes on the heels of the Canadian Forces spending more than $1 million to train public affairs officers on behaviour modification techniques

The Canadian Forces wants to establish a new organization that will use propaganda and other techniques to try to influence the attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of Canadians, according to documents obtained by this newspaper.

The plan comes on the heels of the Canadian Forces spending more than $1 million to train public affairs officers on behaviour modification techniques of the same sort used by the parent firm of Cambridge Analytica, as well as a controversial and bizarre propaganda training mission in which the military forged letters from the Nova Scotia government to warn the public that wolves were wandering in the province.

The new Defence Strategic Communication group will advance “national interests by using defence activities to influence the attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of audiences,” according to the document dated October 2020. Target audiences for such an initiative would be the Canadian public as well as foreign populations in countries where military forces are sent.

The document is the end result of what Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance has called the “weaponization” of the military’s public affairs branch. The document is in a draft form, but work is already underway on some aspects of the plan and some techniques have been already tested on the Canadian public.

But the office of Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said Sunday that the plan, at least for now, is not authorized to proceed. Sajjan has raised concerns about some of the activities related to such influence and propaganda operations. “No such plan has been approved, nor will it be,” Floriane Bonneville, Sajjan’s press secretary, said after being asked by this newspaper about the initiative.

But a series of town halls were already conducted last week for a number of military personnel on the strategies contained in the draft plan.

The report quotes Brig.-Gen. Jay Janzen, director general military public affairs, who stated, “The motto ‘who dares, wins’ is as applicable to strategic communication as it is to warfare.”

The initiative also proposes the creation of a new research capability established to analyze and collect information from the social media accounts of Canadians, non-governmental organizations, industry and the news media, according to the report.

The Canadian Forces have already tested that capability earlier this year. This newspaper reported that a team assigned to a Canadian military intelligence unit monitored and collected information from people’s social media accounts in Ontario, claiming such data-mining was needed to help troops who were to work in long-term care homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

That initiative, aimed at people’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, involved collecting comments made by the public about the provincial government’s failure to take care of the elderly. That data was then turned over to the Ontario government, with a warning from the team it represented a “negative” reaction from the public.

Military officers see nothing wrong with such collection of data as it is already in the public domain on social media accounts. They concede the team should not have been assigned to military intelligence, but under the new plan it will be controlled by the military’s public affairs branch.

But others have questioned how collecting information on the public’s views concerning Ontario Premier Doug Ford was even relevant to how the Canadian Forces were to care for elderly residents. In addition, concerns have also been raised on why the military turned over such data to Ford’s government and what became of it.

Sajjan requested an investigation be done into the data collection and has also limited at least temporarily some of what the military calls influence activities.

The military, however, noted in the plan that it will consult the federal privacy commissioner before it launches its collection of Canadians’ online information.

The public affairs enhancement plan reflects the military leadership’s view they can shape and direct the attitudes of Canadians if the right techniques are applied. “Defence StratCom will focus on effects and outcomes among key audiences and will provide clear direction on aligning actions, efforts and resources in pursuit of strategic objectives,” the plan added.

Some in the Canadian Forces already attempted to conduct a trial run of such techniques.

This newspaper reported in July the military had planned a propaganda campaign aimed at heading off civil disobedience by Canadians during the coronavirus pandemic. That campaign was to use similar propaganda tactics to those employed against the Afghan population during the war in Afghanistan, including loudspeaker trucks to transmit government messages. The propaganda operation was halted after concerns were raised about the ethics behind such techniques.

The public affairs enhancement plan also calls for harnessing the social media accounts of select Canadian Forces staff to push out pre-approved government and military messages to the public. Although the social media activity would be seen to be coming from the personal accounts of military personnel, it would actually be Canadian Forces public affairs officers behind the scenes crafting and coordinating the messages.

The enhancement plan also calls for improving links to military-friendly academics and retired senior military staff so they can be used to push out approved Canadian Forces messages either on social media or in their interactions with journalists.

Sajjan had originally approved the weaponization of public affairs initiative, started in 2015, along with a separate but significant expansion of military propaganda capabilities for various units. The Liberals outlined in their 2017 defence strategy policy the need for the Canadian military to become more involved in propaganda and information warfare.

But attempts to influence the public haven’t always worked out. Last year, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces planned a public relations campaign to counter what bureaucrats and officers believed were false claims that the military had a problem with racists in the ranks. But that plan had to be scuttled after alleged racists and far-right sympathizers with links to military became involved in a series of high-profile incidents, undercutting the message of the PR scheme that the severity of the issue had been exaggerated.

As part of that PR effort, dossiers were created about journalists the military believed would cover the issue of racists in the ranks, including the CBC’s Murray Brewster. The dossier about Brewster, who has since broken a number of stories about the far-right in the Canadian Forces, contained transcripts of his interviews with senior military staff and the warning, “He’s familiar with the defence system, and his reporting, while factual, often emphasizes the mistakes and shortcoming of DND and the CAF.”

Bonneville said the minister did not and will not authorize the creation of the dossiers on journalists. She did not, however, provide an explanation on why the files were created by Canadian Forces staff.

In addition, under Sajjan’s watch, an invitation-only Facebook page has been created where serving and retired military and DND public affairs staff share information about journalists. There are more than 400 participants on the Facebook page, which is officially supported by the DND.

By David Pugliese • Ottawa Citizen, Published Nov 02, 2020


Prince Of Warriors

Sergeant Tommy Prince (USO193)

Sergeant Tommy Prince (USO193)

Tommy Prince was no average soldier. By the end of the Second World War, he was Canada’s most decorated soldier of First Nations descent. In itself, that made him exceptional, but Prince was more than a figurehead. He was one of the most feared members of the Devil’s Brigade.

Prince, an Ojibwa from Manitoba, was first assigned to the Royal Canadian Engineers as a sapper. That didn’t last long. He enrolled in parachute school, then volunteered to join the 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion, a somewhat secret unit formed in mid-1942.

Prince would soon discover the battalion was something more than a conventional paratrooper, reconnaissance or commando unit. It would be all of these, but also an American-Canadian commando unit that would employ new combat strategies with the utmost precision.

When the Americans issued a call for volunteers for the unit, they asked for experienced wilderness specialists — hunters, game wardens, lumberjacks and guides. Prince had grown up in the bush, had worked as a lumberjack and was an expert tracker, hunter and marksman.

Prince, along with 696 other Canadian soldiers, was posted to Helena, Mont., to join nearly 1,000 Americans with similar skills. There, they underwent further training designed to make these tough soldiers tougher. Winter warfare techniques, hand-to-hand combat, mountaineering, amphibious entries, demolition, covert penetration and use of specialized weapons were all part of their no-holds-barred training, and it went on for nearly a year.

The unit’s first mission was to Kiska in the Aleutians, where they arrived only to find the Japanese had already departed. Then, in December 1943, they arrived in Italy.

Just south of Cassino, the unit mounted its first mission against the Germans. After dark and in frigid temperatures, they scaled cliffs on ropes, then, with silent penetration and ruthless efficiency, overran a key German defensive position — the infamous Camino Ridge, from which death had rained down on British and American troops for weeks.

At Anzio, the unit fought without relief for 99 days. To escape their patrols, the Germans established their defensive line about a kilometre back from its original position, but the buffer zone didn’t solve anything.

Tommy Prince

Sergent Tommy Prince before going on patrol.

The Germans began calling them the Devil’s Brigade, especially after soldiers began leaving stickers on dead Germans showing the unit’s insignia and a comment in German, which, roughly translated, said “The worst is yet to come.”

Prince excelled at lone reconnaissance missions, spending days and nights far behind enemy lines, gathering intelligence while living off the land.

In August 1944, his unit transferred from Italy to southern France before its formal disbandment in December of that year. Prince was one of only a few of the remaining original Canadian members who got the salute from American troops at the disbandment ceremony.

In its short history, the Devil’s Brigade accounted for 12,000 German casualties and took 7,000 prisoners.

Prince was called to Buckingham Palace, where King George VI presented him with the Military Medal for his achievements in Italy and the American Silver Star for gallantry.

The Devil’s Brigade has a place in history other than its successes during the Second World War. Its training regimen and mission purposes were adapted by future special forces, including the Green Berets, SEALs, Delta Force and Canada’s JTF2.

After the war, Prince became a vocal veterans’ and natives’ rights advocate, and, when the call came for volunteers for the Korean War, he joined the Princess Patricia’s from Winnipeg, the first contingent of Canadians to arrive in Korea.

Kapyong: Victory goes to the Princess

Canada’s military has seen action in almost every inhospitable climate and on every mean terrain on Earth. Korea was one of the worst.

The legendary cold and wind at Winnipeg’s Portage and Main was nothing compared to those on the wintry hilltops in Korea. The ground thawed to mud in the daytime and froze to rock at night.

In summer, soldiers trudged through flooded rice paddies polluted with human excrement. Insufferable humidity, insect life and diseases could be as lethal as any weapon.

On the night of April 22, 1951, a massive assault was launched against UN defenders in the Kapyong River Valley. More than 200,000 Chinese and North Korean soldiers were set to break through UN lines and capture the South Korean capital of Seoul. The UN defenders could not hold: The South Koreans, the British, the Americans and the Australians fell back.

The Chinese now turned their attention to Hill 677 and the Canadians.

Lt.-Col. James R. Stone was in command of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry on the hill. Stone had taken part in the invasion of Sicily in the Second World War and in the Italian campaign, where he was awarded the Military Cross for single-handedly wiping out an enemy gun emplacement that had been holding up his unit’s advance.

Stone had an afternoon to position his four companies to advantage. Settled in shallow slit trenches scratched from loose rock and scrub, all the soldiers could do was wait and watch, not realizing they would be facing the assault of an entire veteran division of the Chinese army.

The Chinese waited until night and attacked in waves. Blowing whistles and bugles, hurling grenades, most of them armed with automatic weapons — so-called burp guns — they surged over the Canadian positions.

Despite suffering significant casualties, the stubborn Pats repeatedly beat them back, at times fighting hand-to-hand in the dark. At one point, the Canadians called down artillery fire on their own positions to halt a Chinese rush. Taking cover in their slit trenches, they waited out a barrage that exploded at tree-top level and scoured the ground above them.

In the morning, the Pats still held Hill 677, but they were now surrounded by Chinese. Precision airdrops of supplies to the hilltop gave the Pats what they needed to hang on. They stalled the Chinese offensive long enough for other UN forces to reinforce positions and prevent the Chinese from reaching Seoul.

For their work that night, the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry was awarded Presidential Unit Citations, one from the United States and one from the Republic of Korea, an honour unique to this day for a Canadian unit.

Excerpt from Canadian Forces and Historical Salute to Those on the Front Line. By Art Montague. 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 5, 2011 J16


Aboriginal Soldiers Among Canada’s Top Snipers In First World War

Cpl. Francis Pegahmagabow, credited with 378 kills.

Cpl. Francis Pegahmagabow, credited with 378 kills.

Modern sniping was born amid the muck of the battlefields of the First World War and some of its deadliest practitioners were soldiers from Canada’s First Nations communities.

Foremost among them was Cpl. Francis Pegahmagabow, credited with 378 kills during his four years on the shell-shattered front lines of Europe. Historical records indicate that Canada could claim eight of the top dozen snipers from all countries involved in the fighting.

“Of those eight, at least five and probably six are aboriginal of some sort – Metis, First Nations or Inuit,” said Maj. Jim McKillip, a historian with the Canadian Forces department of history and heritage.

Pegahmagabow was the best known of them and the Ojibway was the most highly decorated aboriginal soldier in Canadian history, winning the Military Medal with two bars. That’s the equivalent of getting the honour three times.

Pegahmagabow, who was from the Parry Island Indian Reserve in Ontario – now know as the Wasauksing First Nation – not only made his mark as a scout and sniper but during combat at such bloody battles as Passchendaele, Ypres, the Somme and Mount Sorel, he also captured dozens of prisoners.

He enlisted in August 1914 and served until the end of the war, when he returned home and became an activist for his people.

“He was very keen,” his granddaughter, Theresa McInnes, said in a telephone interview. “I think he wanted to prove himself. He strived to be better. He just had great determination.

“He just wanted to go to war and represent his people and, I think, all of Canada.”

Even wounds could not keep him from the front lines for long, she said.

“He was really determined to get back after being wounded. He couldn’t wait to get back fighting. That was just him. He wanted to be there for the other soldiers.”

While Pegahmagabow was treated like an equal in the army, he endured prejudice when he returned to civilian life.

“He went to war thinking he would be equal to all people and when he came back he was not, so I think he was quite disappointed in that,” said McInnes, who was born within weeks of his death in 1952 but learned about him from relatives.

Pegahmagabow grappled with his experiences in the war and the after-effects of his wounds when he came back. Poison gas had damaged his lungs so badly, he had to sleep in a chair to stop them from filling with fluid.

But McInnes, whose mother married one of Pegahmagabow’s sons, says her mother remembered the soldier as “a kind man” who cared deeply about his family.

“She said he was the nicest man but when he came back he was very poor.”

While he has often been clouded in obscurity, efforts are underway to recognize Pegahmagabow, who rose to be chief of his band and also later served as a member of his band council, fighting for aboriginal rights and treaties.

“He just didn’t sit back,” said McInnes, who noted a plaque and sculpture in his honour are planned. “He was a fighter all around.”

Among other notable snipers were Johnson Paudash, of Kawartha Lakes, Ont., who was described as a soft-spoken man with keen eyesight; Cree Henry Norwest, who hailed from the Edmonton area and had a reputation for striking fear into the Germans; and Louis Philippe Riel, nephew of Métis leader Louis Riel.

Although Canadians excelled at it, sniping was introduced into the war by the Germans, who equipped soldiers with specialized training and rifles equipped with telescopic sights. The allies were slow to catch on. The Germans had issued 20,000 telescopic sights while the British had none.

“Everyone was getting outshot by the Germans for the first half of the war,” McKillip said.

The British eventually set up a sniper school in late 1915 or early 1916, the historian says, but even then they lagged with equipment. They were reluctant to add a telescopic sight to their rifles because they thought it slowed the rate of fire and when they did attach one, it was in an awkward position on the side of the weapon, which made it difficult to use.

In the Canadian forces, snipers were drawn from the regular infantry and men with an aptitude for shooting were sought.

“The demographics of the Canadian Expeditionary Force meant that there was a fairly substantial proportion of the force that did have an outdoors background, most of it farmers but also hunters and fishermen and trappers,” McKillip said, noting British soldiers tended to be city-dwellers.

Marksmanship wasn’t the only quality needed to be a good sniper, McKillip said.

“People realized pretty quickly that sniping was more. It was shooting and hunting combined – the skills of camouflage and concealment. The kind of hunting that you do to hunt animals at close range were the same sort of skills for concealing yourself from the enemy.”

McKillip said the image of a sniper as a lone wolf is a myth and they operated in pairs, with one man serving as a spotter and zeroing in on a target with a telescope.

The same system exists today except the team has been expanded to three, with the third man acting in a support capacity.

“Personality is a very big consideration in this,” McKillip said of the snipers both then and now. “Probably the quality most required in a sniper is patience. First of all, they had to use stealth to get into a lot of these firing positions and this would take lots of patience and sometimes long, laborious crawls or stealthy walks through the night to get into position and hide.

“It’s not uncommon at all to . . . get into position one night and not move the entire day. A lot of patience and stamina and nerves of steel because they were often put into very dangerous circumstances.”

Usually, snipers set up in their own little outposts away from the main body of troops, not just for tactical but safety reasons.

“Once a team started being effective, the enemy would react, the enemy would hunt these guys,” McKillip said. “Quite often the mechanism for hunting them was to try and spot them and then bring down artillery fire on them.”

McKillip pointed out if the snipers were in with the rest of the troops, that fire would land on everyone, not just the snipers.

The snipers lived in the same conditions as the other soldiers and followed a similar routine. Besides seeking out targets of opportunity, they would also be assigned missions such as taking out machine-gun nests or artillery crews or even hunting enemy snipers.

Ironically, in the early days of the war many soldiers thought sniping was a cushy job because the snipers didn’t have to do as many of the more tiring duties, such as labour.

“They thought you can go anywhere and lie in the tall grass,” McKillip said. “They did get quite a bit of attention from the enemy so I think by the end of the war they were recognized as specialists doing a dangerous job.”

By Nelson Wyatt