Ottawa says 24,000 members of the Canadian Armed Forces stand ready to support provinces in the event that they request their assistance fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said provinces have not asked for the military to intervene, but if that were to change, the Canadian Armed Forces are “ready to answer the call.”
“Over the past few weeks, the Canadian Armed Forces have been gearing up to support our efforts and our communities as we fight COVID-19,” Mr. Trudeau said at his daily press briefing on the pandemic outside his home Monday morning.
“Our women and men in uniform have always been there for Canadians in their time of need and this pandemic is no exception,” he said.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the plan developed by Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance includes mobilizing up to 24,000 regular and reserve force members of the Canadian Armed Forces to support efforts to combat the spread of the virus. That number of troops is about a quarter of the entire force and would be one of the largest peacetime mobilizations in Canadian history.
Mr. Sajjan said the forces are staying “flexible” in order to respond to a range of requests, whether it be a surge in need or help with logistics, with particular attention paid to Northern and Indigenous communities.
Mr. Sajjan said the Canadian army has on standby 10 regular force units ready to support requests for assistance, saying the units can provide humanitarian support and deliver supplies. He said reservists and Canadian Rangers “are being brought into full-time service” and will be part of the military’s response.
“These flexible teams are capable of operating as local response forces to assist with humanitarian support, wellness checks, natural disaster response, and other tasks as required," he said.
Mr. Sajjan said the Department of National Defence has been in touch with many remote and Indigenous communities to assess their needs.
Over 50 Canadian Rangers are on standby to help enhance the needs of Northern and Indigenous communities, Mr. Sajjan said. He added that the Royal Canadian Air Force has the capabilities and the personnel to support the response and the Royal Canadian Navy is also “ready to respond on short notice to coastal communities.”
He also noted that the Canadian Armed Forces would maintain their ability to respond to other disasters, such as flooding or forest fires.
Troops have been sequestered and have stayed healthy so that they are ready in the event that they are asked to support communities, Gen. Vance said.
Opposition parties welcomed the news that troops are standing by.
“While it is up to the provinces to request military assistance, we know that Canada’s Armed Forces are the best trained and prepared in the world and routinely deploy domestically to assist Canadians,” said Conservative public safety critic Pierre Paul-Hus.
Randall Garrison, defence critic for the NDP, said in a statement that his party is “glad to hear that the Canadian Forces are ready to step in and help if needed.”
“If requested, the government should consider deploying troops to help with distributing medical supplies and with other services provinces and Indigenous communities may need in dealing with COVID-19,” Mr. Garrison added.
With a file from The Canadian Press.
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