A recent opinion piece from the Toronto Star leaves one wondering if that newspaper even employs fact-checkers to verify the accuracy of the assertions made by its contributors.
Examining Linda McQuaig’s piece titled "Surely we can spare 600 of our 18,000 troops to do what we do best — peacekeeping" in the May 14 edition of the Star line by line reveals an embarrassing array of errors in logic and fact. Beginning with the statement “Leaving aside politics, it's hard to imagine why Canada is sending troops to Afghanistan and not to Darfur.” one can immediately see that Ms. McQuaig has a very limited understanding of the situation in Sudan. Leaving asides politics immediately transports her piece into the realm of make-believe as politics are the single greatest factor influencing Canadian involvement in Sudan. Specifically, Canadian troops could not be sent to Sudan without the permission of that country’s government: anything else would be an invasion of a sovereign country. This is clearly an important political consideration and one that overshadows all others.
The Ruxted editors find it interesting that McQuaig seems to be calling for the use of "firepower" to deal with the Janjaweed... Is she advocating the invasion of the Sudan in the absence of a UN-organized deployment?
Secondly, Ottawa has not “refused to authorize Canadian troops for a SHIRBRIG mission to Darfur, to assist overwhelmed African Union troops.” This blatantly untrue statement contradicts several readily available sources, not least of which is the official DND statement on Canada’s support to the African Union. It is difficult to understand how Ms. McQuaig or the fact-checkers at the Star were unaware of this statement from DND: “Canada has been assisting with stabilization efforts in Sudan since 2004 through the work of the UN Stand-By High Readiness Brigade (SHIRBRIG), and by providing financial assistance, military planning support and specialized staff, and personal protection equipment to African Union (AU) forces involved in peace support operations in the Darfur region.” (1)
Thirdly, there are the wholly fallacious statements regarding the size of the Canadian Army, and the DND budget in the mid-90’s as compared to today. From 1993 to 1996 DND’s budget hovered around $11 billion (2), while the budget for 2006 is projected at little over $14 billion. Accounting for inflation (3), this means that the CF budget in the mid-90’s was actually very close to what it is today and not, as Ms. McQuaig contends “much smaller”. Likewise, her comment that the Army was as big in the mid-90s as it is today has no basis in reality. In the mid-90s the Army had, at its apogee, nearly 24,000 personnel (4) whereas today the number of trained and deployable soldiers hovers around 17,000 . Coupled with the requirement to train new recruits and expand the forces, this means the Army has fewer troops to deploy overseas now than it did in 1995. Clearly, Ms. McQuaig’s argument that we had “the same size Army” is pure fantasy.
Finally, McQuaig implies that Canada is doing little or no good in Afghanistan. Ms. McQuaig should go to Afghanistan and learn something for a change – or at least read the articles of those who have, e.g. Christie Blatchford in the Globe and Mail. A knowledgeable assessment of just what our troops are doing in Afghanistan would do much to cover McQuaig's lack of credibility in this regard.
The recent trend in Toronto Star editorials to ignore reality and facts is disturbing considering that paper’s circulation and reputation. Surely the editorial staff at the Star must appreciate that printing articles such as Ms. McQuaig’s does considerable harm to their standing as professional journalists; not to mention the ethical issues that arise from deliberately misinforming the Canadian public. The Toronto Star has an important role to play in the national debate on Afghanistan and Sudan and it is the sincere hope of this group that the Star starts taking this responsibility seriously.
1. DND/CF Backgrounder, “CF Support to the Stabilization Efforts in Sudan” BG-05.020, July 28, 2005. http://www.forces.gc.ca/site/newsroom/view_news_e.asp?id=1705 Accessed 15 May 06.
2. DND/CF: Budget 2004: Defence Budgets 1999-2003. http://www.forces.gc.ca/site/Reports/budget04/9903_e.asp Accessed 15 May 06.
3. Based on the Bank of Canada Inflation Calculator found here: http://www.bankofcanada.ca/en/rates/inflation_calc.html
4. 1996 Report of the Auditor General, Chapter 7. http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/domino/reports.nsf/html/9607ce.html#0.2.Q3O5J2.O25UY6.IUSLQE.98 Accessed 15 May 06.