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Defence Minister Peter MacKay speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on May 11, 2012.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The Canadian Forces have sealed a deal with Jamaica to set up an operations hub in the country's capital, Kingston, for future operations in the Caribbean.

The hub – essentially access to facilities at a port, airport and military base – will serve as a staging ground if the Canadian Forces need to mount an operation in the region, either because of threat, for drug-interdiction campaigns, or to provide relief after natural disaster like the earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010.

It's part a larger network of seven such hubs the Harper government is planning to dot around the globe, to store supplies or obtain access to facilities for fuelling planes and loading cargo, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said. And while the hubs themselves are modest, they signal the Canadian Forces' ambition to have a rapid-response capacity around the world.

"These abilities … give us reach into regions that allow for a quick response," Mr. MacKay said in an interview from Jamaica.

Canada has already got one hub at the Cologne-Bonn International Airport in Germany, and last month Mr. MacKay talked to authorities in Singapore about opening an Asian hub there. The Canadian Forces also have a logistics hub in Kuwait used for moving equipment in and out of Aghanistan, which might become a permanent facility. And they plan to open other three other hubs, including ones in Africa and South America.

Mr. MacKay said that Jamaica served as a kind of hub for the Canadian Forces relief operations after the Haiti earthquake, and it proved the worth of the idea. "We really established a practical example of why these operational hubs are so important when it comes to our presence, our ability to operate in a region like the Americas," he said.

The hub in Jamaica is actually three locations – one in Kingston harbour, another in its airport, and a third at the Jamaican Defence Force's Kingston base, Up-Park Camp. It might only be used when needed. "We're not talking about bringing equipment here necessarily," Mr. MacKay said. "We're talking about access to refuelling, mechanical, and the ability to bring equipment and personnel through as necessary."

In effect, it's an agreement that allows Canada access to facilities that are already there. Mr. MacKay has dubbed them "light footprints" – sharing a hangar or leasing a warehouse, for example.

Canada has a history of military co-operation with Jamaica, including officer exchanges, training its special forces, and donating sums to pay for some of the facilities at Up-Park Camp, like the Jamaican Military Aviation School. Canada sent three Griffon helicopters to Jamaica last year to conduct search-and-rescue operations during hurricane season.

The Harper government has signalled a desire to play a greater military role in the Americas, through military-training exchanges and sending ships for drug-interdiction efforts.

"Canada recognizes that the security of the Caribbean is linked not only to that of the broader Western Hemisphere, but to our own security as well," Mr. MacKay said in a draft of the speech he delivered in Jamaica.

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