Canadian Forces adapting as requests for disaster-related assistance grow
OTTAWA — The first time Warrant Officer Andrew Buchan was called on to help provide disaster relief at home was the flooding in Quebec in 2017, after 15 years in the reserves. Now, only two years later, he’s back at it.
“This is a new thing,” says Buchan, whose primary responsibility is ensuring the engineer unit to which he is assigned has the tools and supplies it needs to help protect the village of Cumberland, in Ottawa’s rural east end, from flooding. “Call-outs for the military to provide this type of support, at least in my neck of the woods, weren’t as common and it’s becoming more common.”
The Canadian Forces has a long history of helping provinces and municipalities with disasters such as floods, ice storms and wildfires, but recent trends suggest those requests are growing in both frequency and scope.
The military has been called out to help with 10 weather-related disasters over the past two years, according to an analysis by The Canadian Press. That compares to 20 between 2007 and 2016 and only 12 between 1996 and 2006.
And those emergencies — which the military lumps under the moniker Operation Lentus — appear to be getting bigger, meaning the military is being forced to deploy more personnel and resources over larger geographic areas.
The Canadian Forces has more than 2,300 troops across Ontario and Quebec filling sandbags, building barriers, checking on waterlogged homes and evacuating residents. That compares to 2,200 deployed outside the country.
In Quebec, Premier Francois Legault has said he wants the military to stay after the water recedes this time, to help clean up the mess left behind — including hundreds of thousands of contaminant-soaked sandbags. The Canadian Forces can do hard, dirty work that small municipalities and even provincial governments don’t have the ready labour and equipment for.