"Arming" the Canadian Forces

Canadian Forces members before they were "Armed".

The Harper government has decided that it is going to refer to Canada’s military as the “Canadian Armed Forces” instead of the “Canadian Forces”, Lee Berthiaume reports (“Canada’s military is getting a new name — again,” Postmedia News, 13 March 2012):

Having already re-inserted “royal” into the names of the Canadian air force and navy, the Harper government is making another change to Canada’s military identity.

It is now quietly working to remind Canadians that their soldiers carry guns by doing away with the Chretien-era “Canadian Forces” to describe the military, and instead returning to former moniker “Canadian Armed Forces.” …

A spokeswoman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the terms Canadian Forces and Canadian Armed Forces are interchangeable, according to the National Defence Act.

But Paloma Aguilar confirmed Canadian Armed Forces “is now being used consistently by the prime minister and Minister MacKay.”

“Of the two, we think the Canadian Armed Forces is more appropriate,” she said in an email. “Our military is an armed military.”

Some of you may be skeptical that Canadians were ever unaware that their military is in fact “an armed military”.

But this isn’t the first strange idea our Conservative government has had.

And it isn’t the only strange thing about the name story either. Berthiaume’s article goes on to quote retired lieutenant-colonel Douglas Bland, who proceeds to blame the government of Jean Chrétien for adopting the “Canadian Forces” name in the first place:

Bland said Canadian Armed Forces was the definitive name of Canada’s military after the navy, army and air force were “unified” into one common force in 1968.

But the Chretien government quietly removed “armed” from the name as it was instigating deep budget cuts in the 1990s, he said, because it was keen on “softening” the military’s image — which helped “deflect any criticism about not buying military equipment.”

“Almost without notice it was changed by the Chretien government to the Canadian Forces,” said Bland, who at the time opposed the decision. “Changing it was a political move.”

There’s a problem with this part of the story. It’s nonsense.

The “Canadian Armed Forces” has been the formal name of Canada’s military since unification in the 1960s, but the name “Canadian Forces” has also been in wide use since that time. Canadian Forces organizations such as the Canadian Forces Communications Command were established early in the post-unification era and existed throughout the 1970s and 1980s and into the 1990s. Canadian Forces Bases and Canadian Forces Stations also appeared in the 1960s, as did the Canadian Forces Headquarters (later National Defence Headquarters).

The Mulroney government’s 1987 defence white paper, Challenge and Commitment, used the name “Canadian Armed Forces” in only one place — in a sentence about unification (“This decision was followed by the Canadian Forces Reorganization Act in 1967, which unified the services into a single Canadian Armed Forces.”). By contrast, the name “Canadian Forces” appeared nearly 60 times in the document.

“Canadian Forces” was the only term used in the Conservatives’ 1992 Canadian Defence Policy update.

Obviously, none of this history had anything to do with the Chrétien government, which arrived in office in 1993 and at no time during its tenure demonstrated an ability to travel through time.

But mere history didn’t stop the National Post from lending its editorial endorsement to the elimination of the namby-pamby Liberal name (“Putting the “Armed” back in the Forces,” National Post, 13 March 2012):

The latest move by the Conservatives is to begin formally referring to the military as the Canadian Armed Forces. That was the official name for the military after the unification of the various service branches in 1968, but the term fell out of use during the 1990s, during the Jean Chrétien-era cuts to defence spending. The Liberal government of the day preferred the softer, gentler term, “Canadian Forces.”

This was always absurd. …

Putting the “Armed” back in the Armed Forces is a small gesture. But it’s one we’re glad to see made.

Absurdity indeed.

Photo credit: DND

Tags: Brian Mulroney, Canadian Armed Forces, Canadian Forces, Douglas Bland, Jean Chretien, Stephen Harper