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In The Media

Mali mission questions still go unanswered by Canadian Forces, Liberals

by David Pugliese (feat. Steve Saideman)

Ottawa Citizen
April 22, 2018

On Friday, Col. Jay Janzen, a senior public affairs officer, entered the political debate on the Mali mission by claiming that questions being asked about whether the mission was combat or not missed the point. Other questions needed to be asked, according to Janzen, the Canadian Forces director of Strategic Communications. Details about the mission’s cost, risk and length were among the questions suggested by the officer.

Conservative MPs fired back, pointing out to Janzen that it is their right and duty as opposition MPs to ask questions about whether Mali is a combat mission or not. Conservative defence critic James Bezan responded to Janzen that “it is arrogant and insulting to diminish the legitimate questions of Parliamentarians and Canadians. We have the right to know.”

Political scientist Stephen Saideman jumped to Janzen’s defence, chastising the news media for not asking more detailed questions about the Mali mission, such as those the public affairs officer had suggested.

There was one little problem with Janzen’s claims and Saideman’s response. Many of these questions about the Mali mission had already been asked by the news media of Janzen’s own organization (Director General Public Affairs) and the government. Either no answers were provided or the response given was so vague it was useless. It is indeed strange that Janzen didn’t mention this.

The Mali mission was announced March 19 by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, with Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance standing by to answer questions. The “press conference” lasted probably a whole 10 minutes. There was no technical briefing to provide details of the mission.

The CBC ran a headline – “Sajjan offers few details on Mali mission.” That pretty much summed up the event.

At times, the press conference was an exercise in confusion.

Sajjan announced Canada would send to the United Nations mission in Mali two Chinook helicopters and four armed Griffon helicopters to escort them. A few minutes later at the same news conference Vance said the number of helicopters being assigned to the Mali mission had still not been determined.

The government’s news release on the deployment indicated helicopters would be sent but did not provide specific numbers.

And Sajjan’s office later sent out a message to journalists, contradicting Vance by stating that ‘up to’ two Chinooks and four Griffons would be sent.

Don’t forget that this Mali mission has been on the books for quite some time as discussions started last year with the UN. Still journalists couldn’t get straight answers.

Perhaps Janzen should look inward to his own public affairs organization and ask Assistant Deputy Minister Public Affairs Chris Henderson or Brig.-Gen.Marc Theriault, director general of public affairs, why there was no technical briefing available or proper answers provided to questions by journalists?

He might ask Vance or Sajjan why they couldn’t even figure out how many helicopters were being assigned to the mission?

Early Saturday, Defence Watch submitted the questions Col. Janzen suggested be asked. (Some of these questions were also asked March 19) The questions were sent both to the Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan and Col. Janzen’s own organization, Canadian Forces public affairs. Here are the questions about the Mali mission:

1)    What are Canada’s objectives?

2)    Can we achieve them?

3)    How long will it take?

4)    What are the risks and costs?

5)    Are there appropriate resources?

Defence Watch has been told answers will be provided at some point but the Canadian Forces couldn’t say when that might happen.

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