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I talked to a warrant officer on an airplane. (Fly much in the Atlantic provinces and you’re bound to end up sitting by someone from the Forces.

There are just too many Atlantic Canadians in Canada’s military. And truth is, I talk to people all the time; that’s what it is to be inordinately curious.)

But back to this particular plane. The soldier was on his way to a training program, and we were talking about missions. He said, quite bluntly, that even if a mission was dangerous, he’d rather be on that mission, in the field, then home in Canada being sent around the country to different postings and training.

With a mission, he said, he knew the time frames, he knew what he would be doing tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, and he wouldn’t be at the more capricious whim of the peacetime Army, where he’d experienced being told that he was being sent three or four provinces over with only a day or two’s notice, sent somewhere else to do different busywork.

What about the danger, I asked.

Well, he said he’d known about the danger when he joined the military. He’d expected it, he’d trained for it and he had a pretty impressive list of missions he’d taken part in. He understood it as his duty.

Both of those points made sense, I guess, although I wouldn’t pick a military career for myself or someone I loved.

Especially not right now.

Why not right now? Well, with the federal government’s decision to send troops for training purposes to Ukraine, we’re now operating in a number of different theatres. And while the warrant officer on the plane understood clearly about duty, I’m not so sure our federal government does.

Years ago, when the United States was huffing and puffing about the need for a “coalition of the willing” to stop Iraq from using weapons of mass destruction — weapons, apparently, that the U.S. knew the Iraqis did not have — Canada chose to stay on the sidelines. I can’t imagine that we would now. Asked to jump by the Americans, I imagine the Harper government’s response would be something close to “How high?”

That’s not good enough.

We have a duty to ensure our soldiers are sent into danger for carefully thought-out reasons, with fully appropriate training and equipment, and without the “me-too” politics of wanting to tag along with big neighbours. We shouldn’t send soldiers simply because we can.

We also have to ensure that veterans — those who come back from the missions our government deem so essential — come back to proper treatment, especially those who have suffered injuries. There are any number of stories that show we have not done that.

After I go off my flight, I was impressed by the fact I had been sitting next to a Canadian soldier who had spent a great deal of thoughtful time considering his role and thinking about his duty.

I’m just not sure our government takes as much care and thought before putting Canadian soldiers in harm’s way.


Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic

Regional columnist. He can be reached at

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