Pubdate: Sat, 27 Apr 2013
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2013 The Vancouver Sun
Author: Lee Berthiaume


Ottawa - Bad maps are being blamed after Canadian naval reservists
participating in the U.S.-led war on drugs last year sparked a
diplomatic flap by firing their weapons and intercepting fishing
trawlers in Jamaican waters - without Jamaica's permission.

The embarrassing incident, which has never before been publicly
reported, broke international maritime law - not the first time legal
questions have been raised about Canada's increasing involvement in
the drug war.

On March 27, 2012, HMCS Goose Bay and Kingston were patrolling south
of Jamaica as part of Operation Caribbe, Canada's contribution to an
ongoing, U.S.-led anti-drug trafficking mission in the Caribbean and
East Pacific.

Documents obtained by Postmedia News show that at one point, crew
members on both vessels began firing their ships' weapons, including
large 50-calibre machine guns, as part of a live-fire training exercise.

The Goose Bay also deployed its small rigid-hulled inflatable boat on
two occasions that day to intercept and identify 17 small fishing
vessels to ensure they weren't carrying cocaine, marijuana or were
involved in any other illicit activity.

The Goose Bay and Kingston also reportedly pulled up alongside one
vessel that Jamaican officials said had a "retired senior political
figure on board."

The Goose Bay and Kingston are Kingston-class maritime coastal defence
vessels that are much smaller than the navy's frigates and destroyers,
crewed almost entirely by reservists, and generally used for
patrolling Canada's coasts.

It was only the next day, when the head of the Jamaican coast guard
contacted Canadian authorities to complain, that defence officials
realized the Goose Bay and Kingston had been in Jamaican territory and
not international waters.

"HMCS Goose Bay and Kingston inadvertently conducted live weapons
training and other maritime operations in Jamaican territorial
waters," the document reads, "in contravention of international
maritime law."

The mistake was quickly attributed to the Canadian vessels'

"This was an oversight," according to the documents' talking points
prepared in case media got wind of the story. "The ships were
operating with navigation charts that did not accurately reflect the
territorial waters of Jamaica. Consequently, the ships' captains
thought they were in international waters when they conducted the exercises."

The notes go on to say that the Canadian Forces had "amended their
navigational charts to accurately reflect Jamaica's claimed
territorial waters, and future deployments of ships and aircraft to
the region will ensure the correct charts are used to ensure that
nothing similar happens in the future."

There was no explanation as to why the ships had the incorrect

The Defence Department did not respond to questions by press

Canadian military vessels and aircraft aren't strangers to the
Caribbean, particularly since the Conservative government first
launched Canada's involvement in U.S.-led anti-drug trafficking
efforts in 2006.

Canada's involvement there and throughout much of the Western
hemisphere has grown substantially over the intervening years, with
Canadian surveillance aircraft, naval vessels and even submarines an
increasingly common sight during interdiction missions.

Documents obtained by Postmedia News indicate much of this "larger,
more robust contribution" to the U.S.-led war on drugs has been driven
by the military itself, which has seen the mission as a key
opportunity in the aftermath of Afghanistan.

National Defence reports that the total cost of Operation Caribbe has
increased from $25.3 million in 2008-09 to an estimated $282.2 million
this year, reflecting that increased involvement as more military
assets are dedicated to the mission.

(Officially, National Defence says the actual cost of participating in
Operation Caribbe was $7.4 million in 2008-09 and $9.6 million this
year because the rest of the costs would have been incurred whether
the mission was undertaken or not.)

This expanded role, which has gone largely unreported, has included
some prickly legal questions beyond the actions of the HMCS Goose Bay
and Kingston.

In 2010, for example, the Conservative government agreed to let armed
U.S. Coast Guard boarding teams ride in Canadian military vessels
despite what was described in internal notes as "the unique nature of
this arrangement and complex legal issues."

More recent briefing notes have indicated an interest in having
Canadian authorities actually boarding vessels suspected of illicit
activities and making arrests, which would raise other legal questions.

A federal government program designed to send military-grade tactical
gear to Latin America, including boots, pistol holsters and boats, to
help battle organized crime groups was scrapped last month after
questions about its legality were raised.

The Defence Department briefing documents estimate that transnational
criminal organizations in the region are worth more than $40 billion
US, with cocaine being their main source of income.

The organized crime groups are a "corrosive" threat to governments and
populations throughout the Americas, particularly in Central American
countries such as Honduras, Guatemala and Panama, the documents add.

Canada's involvement in tackling this threat started in 2006 with the
deployment of a maritime patrol aircraft to the region after the U.S.
military diverted half of its surveillance planes to the Middle East
and the Dutch retired its fleet of patrol aircraft.

The Conservative government has made the Western hemisphere one of
Canada's foreign policy priorities. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D