Interview article

LGen Marc Dumais

Canada Command
CHRIS MacLEAN  |  Sep 15, 2006

We’ve all heard about Canada Command, but what do we really know about it? Are Canadians aware that its creation is one of the most transformational initiatives in the Canadian Forces? FrontLine spoke with Lieutenant-General Marc Dumais to find out just why we need Canada Command, and how its command structure differs from the way things were done in the past.

LGen Marc Dumais takes FrontLine on a tour of the Operations Centre at Canada COM HQ.

Extensive groundwork was laid by the first Commander, Vice-Admiral Jean-Yves Forcier, who retired earlier this year after 35 years of dedicated service. Forcier worked tirelessly to develop the new Command, which was stood up in a ­ceremony on 31 January 2006.

Formerly the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff, LGen Dumais, appointed Commander Canada COM in May of this year, emphasizes that he has been “continuously impressed,” ­during his first few months on the job, “with the amount of work that was accomplished by Admiral Forcier and the Transition Team, many of whom are still on staff here in Canada Command. They built it from scratch, with a blank piece of paper.”

Placing a direct emphasis on the CF’s ability to respond on our own soil by making it operationally imperative, the new command structure provides the Commander of Canada COM with the authority to place the safety and security needs of Canadians at the top of his list of priorities.

“It is a whole new command control structure, a new headquarters,” says LGen Dumais, “and they really had to identify their terms of reference in the ­significant amount of detail that goes into a new command control structure. They really did an outstanding job and covered  a significant amount of ground so that when Canada Command was stood up on 1 February 2006, it was set on a very solid foundation.”

Several positive outcomes have become evident from that process, explains Dumais. Noteworthy is “the very clear command and control chain that has now been established throughout Canada for domestic operations and continental operations – from the Chief of Defence Staff to myself as Commander of Canada Command, down to the regional Joint Task Force Commanders, and to whatever units and capabilities are tasked to them for operations.”

Insiders say that this direct link to the Chief of Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier, is immeasurably valuable in cutting through red tape and getting things done… which is quickly becoming the new standard in the CF.

Canada Command brings a clear operational focus to deal with domestic issues through the new headquarters structure. While this very new operational focus may not yet be evident throughout the Canadian Forces – especially to the junior ranks at the base and wing level, who are not directly affected and still carry out their tasks as before – it is ­revolutionary to the basic structure of the Canadian Forces. Canada COM facilitates “increasing involvement in domestic and continental issues and response that ­previously were dealt with in a staff matrix sort of approach. The structure is now a two-way flow, there’s direction going down and there’s information ­flowing up – we have a very formal and evolving process for situation awareness in the country and on the continent, and we’ve made major developments there.”

Canada Command is operationally aware of it’s mandate to assist in crisis response on the continent. To that end, it is involved with other government departments in planning and exercises to ­mitigate the effects of man-made or ­natural disasters.

“I would like to comment on the relationships both at the regional and federal levels with other government departments and with Northcom. Those relationships existed before, but now we can bring an operational focus with more vigour to them, and that pays off in ­dividends because, in many scenarios, the Canadian Forces supports other Govern­ment depart­ments in whatever event is occurring.”

The departments involved can be somewhat surprising until you think about it. There are the obvious ones like Public Safety and Emergency Prepared­ness (PSEPC), the RCMP, the Coast Guard, and the Border Security Agency, but the Canada COM mandate could also involve Transport Canada, Environment Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and the list goes on. “When you’re talking about domestic security it’s broader than just defence, it involves all sorts of facets, and coordination at the ­federal level is critical.”

A country as vast and geographically and culturally diverse as Canada is, it’s understandable that regional headquarters needed to be defined. Joint Task Force Atlantic was the first to be stood up. LGen Dumais explains that the previous structures made this a natural choice to start. “We already had a significant air and land presence there, through the Land Forces Atlantic Area and the maritime air component Atlantic that was situated in Halifax, so right in the headquarters building there was a significant land and air force presence. Creating a joint headquarters there seemed a logical thing to do, so they were the flagship for how we would ideally like to structure them. But I think we have to understand that Canada is a big country, the regions are diverse and we really can’t use a cookie cutter approach in setting up these structures across the country. So they are all going to have their unique dimensions and their unique structures and flavour.”

Developing a joint approach across the regions is a key requirement and Dumais is pursuing different ways of achieving that in each regional command.

All of the Regional Commands are operational now, and each Commander arrived in Ottawa for a two-day conference in late September. “We discussed some of the fundamental command control issues that we’re dealing with and how all that needs to evolve,” says Dumais. “We have to understand that we’ve built this command and control structure on existing frameworks, for the sake of avoiding duplication of effort and to keep it affordable. The Regional Joint Task Force Commanders are the former area and coastal commanders, and are still involved in force generation work for either the Army or the Air force or the Navy – now they’re wearing the RJTF hat and report to me for operations. So they still have a function to generate maritime, air and land capability, but when we’re talking about employment in the Canadian or domestic context, it’s through Canada Command.”

What are the priorities and the greatest challenges in the setting up of Canada Command? “The biggest challenge I would say is the resource challenge. You have to understand that we have only so many people with experience and time in Canada, and you need competent people to do planning, to coordinate with other government departments – experienced people who understand how to plan and execute operations. Those people are in limited supply. Although the Canadian Forces is growing, the ­ability to set up this headquarters and to augment the former areas and original commanders to accommodate the new command and control structure, is finite. So the real challenge is a capacity issue now that we have identified a series of areas that we need to expand and develop. We need the capacity to do that, and that’s the challenge.

“Like any organization, we never have enough people to do everything we want to do, so we’re putting in place a framework to prioritize all of that so we put the emphasis, with our limited personnel, in the right places at the right time.

“Another challenge, as I mentioned, is in enhancing relationships with other departments. That is always a challenge because again they have the same capacity limitations as we do, there are only so many hours in a day, everybody has their mandates and responsibilities, so the coordination and syncronisation of all that is always a work in progress – so that’s an ongoing effort for us.”

The regional Task Forces were officially stood up on 1 February. They are all working to establish new relationships and enhance existing ones at the ­federal, regional and provincial levels, which Dumais describes as another work in progress. Some regions are responsible for several provinces, which can present additional levels of complexity – interdepartmental relationships are notorious for multiplying exponentially.

Another dimension involves the fact that not all regions have the same Army, Navy and Air force representation. “The land-locked regions of the West, Central and East Regions which, by virtue of the way they were structured, are primarily land centred,” explains LGen Dumais. “So we have to augment them with Air force and Navy personnel to ensure that they approach problems and planning from a Joint perspective and that’s a scenario that we’re working on.”

And of course, there unique challenges that JTF North must contend with. With 40% of Canada’s land mass, but only 120,000 people living there, it is very thinly populated. Economic development and levels of activity have been steadily increasing, and environmental challenges such as global warming are also having a significant impact on the north. “The rate of change is not clear,” admits Dumais, “but when you talk to the people up north you see that it’s already having an impact on them.”

Canada’s new Government has stated that the north is a priority. Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently travelled up north to make that point perfectly clear. However, Dumais acknowledges that the CF has limited military capacity up North. “We’re doing everything we can with what we’ve got,” he says, “we’re augmenting our surveillance and our presence up north over time, and we’re putting a focus on the north.”

The Vice Chief of Defence Staff, LGen Walt Natynczyk, is holding a conference on the North in the last week of September. “Experts and academia will discuss ideas to help shape the way ahead for the North, certainly from a military perspective and we’re contributing to that.”

But there remains the continuing dilemma of who is responsible for Search and Rescue requirements up north. Those involved with northern safety issues had hoped that arctic SAR could be integrated into the Joint Task Force North mandate.

SAR is presently run from three regions across Canada: Pacific, Atlantic and Trenton. “The Trenton Regional Coordina­tion Centre for Search and Rescue is responsible for most of central Canada, all the way up to the North Pole – and that ­covers most of the Arctic area,” confirms the Commander. “We haven’t changed that structure. Discussion continues on where we need to posture our search and rescue capabilities as we procure new equipment, we’re talking about a new Fixed Wing SAR aircraft, eventually, and other assets such as utility aircraft for the North, so we’ll have to shape our posture to reflect our requirements.”  Decisions on northern SAR are based on the fact that a large majority of SAR requirements happen in the more heavily populated areas in Canada.

“We need to have SAR assets where the business is,” says LGen Dumais. By using a cost-per-rescue criteria, it makes perfect business sense to concentrate all search and rescue assets on the east/west coasts and along our southern border. Sadly, military SAR plans are often referred to as Search and Recovery because by the time the aircraft and SAR Techs arrive, the inhospitable ­climate has usually already taken it’s ­victim.

Understandably, they have come to depend more on the volunteer SAR groups.

Many people concerned about northern sovereignty and safety hope that Joint Task Force North will incorporate a SAR capability at its Whitehorse Headquarters. This decision apparently hinges on the anxiously-awaited Defence Capability Plan being drafted by Chief of the Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier.

“We understand that if something happens up North it is very serious,” concedes Dumais. “We have a major air disaster plan, MAJAID, that has been in existence for a long time and we’re working on it right now to make it more ­relevant and to take into account new capabilities that we’re bringing on-line. For example we’ll be purchasing a C-17 aircraft which will give us awesome capabilities in terms of rapidly deploying capability up North. So we’re looking at all of that. We have always met the search and rescue mandate in Canada and we will continue to ensure that we do that.”

There are no plans for maintaining a SAR capability up North. “Well all of our capabilities have a secondary role in search and rescue, if somebody is lost and we have an airplane flying overhead, they can contribute to the search,” says Dumais. “The rescue portion is something that requires a lot of specialized equipment and highly trained SAR Technicians, and they are in short supply, so we must strategically locate them. We have to be very methodical about our approach here in terms of posturing search and rescue in Canada because we have the challenge of the second largest land mass in the world and limited resources spread out across the country.

“Canada Command is responsible for all operations, from a military perspective, domestically and on the continent. We are here to facilitate and to assist other government departments in executing their responsibilities with respect to dealing with crises or events in Canada – and that’s our mandate. Like other departments and agencies, we have capacity limitations and that’s an ongoing challenge so we have to prioritize what we are going to do and how we are going to do it, and put the emphasis in the right places in keeping with the government’s mandate and policies.”

Bringing the wide variety of regional priorities and relationships in line with the Joint requirements of Canada Command has been a challenge that LGen Dumais seems very committed to seeing through. He is rightfully respectful of the work that was done before him and is prepared to take this initiative forward, building an effective and efficient operational ­command for responding to domestic events, such as a crisis requiring Canadian Forces’ support.
Chris MacLean is the Editor-in-Chief of FrontLine Defence magazine, she can be reached at
©  Frontline Defence 2006