Military exercise tests capacity to rescue Canadians overseas

Military exercise tests capacity to rescue Canadians overseas

Over the next week, Vancouver Island will play the fictitious failed state of "Macadamia" in a military exercise designed to test the Canadian military's capacity to rescue Canadians from a nation in turmoil.

When Canadians are in trouble abroad, the first federal department in charge of evacuation is Global Affairs Canada (the former foreign affairs department).

Lt.-Col. Jacques Allain, the commanding officer of the exercise, says if the capacity of Global Affairs Canada to move people falls short, it may ask the Canadian Forces to come and help.

The military has participated in real-life overseas rescue missions from Lebanon in 2006 and Libya in 2011.

Allain says the key point of this exercise is to improve communication between the civilian staff of Global Affairs Canada and military personnel.

"The major lessons we've learned is the necessity for us and the people at Global Affairs Canada to speak the same language. Although we are two federal departments, we have two different focuses. It's important for us to come together and speak the same language and unify our processes and our protocol," he explained.

The exercise is practiced annually in different locations across the country to test different terrain, he said.

It is not related to a specific world event or scenario, he added.

'Political chaos' 

In this scenario, Vancouver Island will play "Macadamia" — a nation struck by an earthquake and tsunami that has devolved into political chaos.

"What we're seeing right now is a lot of political and social unrest. We've included a natural catastrophe because sometimes, in a more fragile country, that can destabilize the government," Allain said.

"Canadians that are doing business or living abroad at this time — we feel like their situation is dire and not safe anymore."

The mission will be to evacuate role-players from Vancouver Island. Challenges will include integrating with the civilian Global Affairs personnel and other organizational personnel, creating communication systems, organizing transportation and ensuring safety.

About 300 Canadian Armed Forces personnel will be participating in the exercise, Allain said, but you likely won't see them.

"We will keep a low profile," he said. "CAF personnel typically arrive in civilian clothes and in the smallest possible numbers so as not to create alarm, suspicion or ill-feeling.

"That is one of the key aspects of one of these operations when we go and help Global Affairs Canada. Most of the time, we'll be using just plain clothes as we come in and help them sort out the logistics and chaos and make sure we can move our Canadians to a safe place."

The exercise is expected to end on May 5.

With files from The Early Edition