Good morning, everyone.
I'm calling this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number four of the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Wednesday, October 14, the committee is meeting today to study the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Canadian Armed Forces operations.
We've done this before in a hybrid format, so the same rules will apply.
Please keep in mind that those of us attending in person, me included, must abide by the rules of the public health measures in force at the present time.
When you're not speaking, please put your mike on mute. When it comes to the speakers list, the clerk and I will do the very best we can to maintain the speaking order for all members.
I would like to begin by welcoming our witnesses this morning.
I'm very grateful that you could join us this morning. I will probably hand it over to Major-General Trevor Cadieu and ask him to introduce the members of his team. Then he can proceed with his opening statement.
Further, Troy Crosby, who is the ADM, materiel, will join us for the second half of this meeting, around noon. When he comes online, we'll take a little break. We'll introduce him to the meeting and then will carry on.
Welcome, Major-General Trevor Cadieu.
I would like to hand it to you to introduce your team.
Madam Chair, thank you for the invitation to discuss the role of the Department of National Defence, or DND, and the Canadian Armed Forces, or CAF, in the whole-of-government response to the evolving COVID-19 situation and the impact of COVID-19 on domestic and international operations.
With me today, Madam Chair, are Major-General Marc Bilodeau, surgeon general for the Canadian Armed Forces, and Rear-Admiral Rebecca Patterson, commander of the Canadian Armed Forces health services group. As you indicated, Mr. Troy Crosby, assistant deputy minister for the materiel group, will be joining us for the second hour of this meeting.
Since the start of this pandemic, which has claimed the lives of thousands of precious Canadians and well over a million people globally, our most sacred duty in the Canadian Armed Forces has been to mobilize for what has been and must continue to be a whole-of-nation defence against COVID-19.
Starting in February, as we all worked to better understand the disease and the threats it posed, the Canadian Armed Forces deployed in support of Global Affairs and the Public Health Agency under the rubric of Operation Globe. That was the mission we established to repatriate Canadians from China, Japan and the United States. As part of this operation, Canadian Forces health services medical personnel screened and prepared travellers for their journey and provided compassionate inflight and post-flight care. Upon arrival in Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces, in coordination with the Public Health Agency and the Red Cross, facilitated the quarantine of nearly 1,000 Canadians at Canadian Forces Base Trenton by providing accommodations, transportation, food services and general duty support. Approximately 300 Canadian Armed Forces personnel supported Operation Globe.
As our nation organized to delay and mitigate the effects of COVID-19, the chief of the defence staff issued direction to protect the force and prepare for a potential large-scale and enduring domestic response known as Operation Laser. That's a critical Canadian Armed Forces mission that continues today.
In order to ready the Canadian Armed Forces, we dispersed personnel, we restricted travel and engagements and we temporarily contracted our global force posture in order to provide support to Canadians. We established Operation Laser, a formidable team of 24,000 Canadian Armed Forces members—regular force, reserve force, Canadian Rangers and civilians—postured throughout the nation and ready to respond to requests for Canadian Armed Forces assistance.
You are familiar with the tireless work of Canadian Armed Forces men and women in 54 long-term care facilities in the provinces of Quebec and Ontario. After undergoing a focused training and orientation program, these members needed to move decisively to form augmented civilian care teams and rapidly surge into facilities hit hardest by COVID-19. In the course of their duties, our teammates observed issues related to the provision of care to residents in some of those facilities.
As you would expect of your Canadian Armed Forces, these uniformed members immediately reported their findings while taking immediate corrective action on the ground alongside civilian colleagues to provide dignified care. This effort involved nearly 2,000 Canadian Armed Forces members, many of whom selflessly gave of themselves to better protect our most vulnerable Canadians in some of their darkest moments.
Separately, the Canadian Armed Forces has been honoured to provide support to other Canadians in this very challenging year. Hundreds of Canadian Rangers, for example, have reinforced public health measures in northern and remote communities while facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid. Concurrently, the Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces logistics experts have helped the Public Health Agency to strengthen its medical supply chain by assisting with the reception, warehousing and distribution of personal protective equipment and medical materiel across the country.
While protecting Canadians was and will continue to be our number one priority, the Canadian Armed Forces was also able to project aircraft and crews in support of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to deliver life-saving medical equipment and humanitarian aid to numerous countries in Latin America and the Caribbean this past summer. This effort was hailed by both by the United Nations and our closest allies.
In addition, although some training and activities have paused to ensure the continued safety and security of our personnel during this pandemic, your military continues to be active in operations abroad. In fact, nearly 2,000 troops are deployed in support of Canada's allies globally.
Looking ahead, we recognize that additional unity, determination and sacrifice will be required of all of us to eventually prevail in this fight against COVID. The Canadian Armed Forces remains poised to do our part alongside other government departments, partners and Canadians. We have liaison officers working in support of other government departments in order to streamline communications. We are integral to all government contingency planning, and we maintain a robust, ready force comprising sea, land and air force elements.
Our teams are again fully integrated with the Public Health Agency of Canada, where we are working with optimism and enthusiasm as part of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout task force. Specifically, the Canadian Armed Forces is assisting with the development of a logistics support plan for the rollout of the vaccine. We are helping to establish a national operations centre that will oversee distribution of the vaccine, and the chief of the defence staff will be prepared to provide advice on how best to use Canadian Armed Forces resources for the actual vaccine rollout in the weeks and months to come.
Finally, I will close by acknowledging that we, like most Canadians, have learned how to better function in the midst of this pandemic, and we are applying the tough lessons from our operations to enhance our resilience, to grow from and to be better for these experiences. Our chief of the defence staff and deputy minister have directed that we continually refine our understanding and application of public health measures to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our communities.
Moreover, we are mobilizing medical and mental health supports to enhance the wellness of Canadian Armed Forces troops. We continuously work to strengthen our stocks of personal protective equipment, and we are developing innovative risk mitigation strategies to reduce the risk of community transition as we conduct operations in support of Canada.
Madam Chair, ladies and gentlemen, we look forward to taking your questions.
Thank you to all of the witnesses. I concur and thank you for your service to Canada.
Major-General Cadieu, many of our allies and partners have domestic organizations to help them with disaster responses. For example, in the United States they have FEMA. In Canada, we now are relying highly on the military.
Because we're going to have these ongoing pandemics and have all these environmental issues now with floods and fires, etc., is the military doing some long-term thinking and planning to organize themselves on a long-term basis with the necessary training they will need for dealing with, on one hand, foreign interventions and then, on the other, the interventions they will need to make within Canada? These are totally different in nature and have different costs involved.
Have you been giving some thought to how we would use our reserves and our regular forces to deal with this on an ongoing basis?
This is absolutely something that our chief of the defence staff has been considering with the senior leadership of the Canadian Armed Forces.
On the one hand, of course, our nation, as is the case with all of our allies, is confronting a rapidly evolving security situation globally. The threats posed by potential adversaries is something that the Canadian Armed Forces needs to organize for, and so our chief of the defence staff is focused on what capabilities and resources need to be mobilized to defend Canada and Canadians against external threats. But, of course, he also recognizes that at home we need to be prepared to support Canadians in their time of need, and we have seen that, as you suggest, on many occasions over the last several years.
He has directed us to consider what additional training and organizational structures are required to be prepared to respond to other natural disasters, weather events and domestic emergencies.
You are absolutely right. For the Canadian Armed Forces to maintain its edge and to be prepared to respond to emerging threats, our members have to continually train for the different types of environments they might be deployed into. Initially, when we knew little about this disease, there was a requirement to contract the force and to privilege the support that we were providing to Canadians. Over time, as we better understood COVID-19, it allowed us to initiate or reinitiate a number of training and operational activities.
In general terms, our chief of the defence staff and our deputy minister have articulated a number of guiding principles, if you will, that need to be put into place as our force generators and our different environments re-engage in training. For example, it's absolutely essential that our teammates respect public health measures and have at their disposal non-medical masks and personal protective equipment if it's required. They must be properly trained on the use of personal protective equipment. We make sure there's a period of onboarding for all Canadian Armed Forces' members and Department of National Defence personnel before they come back and work, so they can visualize the environment they're going to be in, while making sure we respect the flexibility that some of our teammates require to be working from home.
The last thing I would say is that as we deploy back into the field to conduct our manoeuvre training, it's forced us to mobilize some imagination, some innovation, on how to do that safely to maintain physical distancing, for example, and strong hygiene. It requires significant attention to detail and strong leadership and cohesion among all our teams.
Madam Chair, I would like to thank the member for his question.
I will get started with the response to this question and will also turn it over to Admiral Patterson to see if she wants to expand on this.
What I would say categorically is that throughout Operation Laser, our women leaders and members of the Canadian Armed Forces have featured prominently in absolutely every aspect of the Canadian Armed Forces' response, whether it's deployment into long-term care facilities, or the advice that's being provided to other government departments. The Canadian Rangers, comprising both women and men, surged into our communities to help vulnerable Canadians in their times of need.
I cannot think of a force element that has been employed as part of Operation Laser in which women have not featured prominently.
I'll just turn it over to Admiral Patterson to see if she'd like to expand on this as well.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I'd certainly like to start by expressing the thanks of New Democrats, on behalf all Canadians, for the Canadian Forces' responsive role in this pandemic in keeping our international relations going as well as aiding domestic authorities.
I want to continue on the question of resources. I have expressed my concerns many times in this committee that the operational budget of the Canadian Armed Forces, with the inflation rate in Canada, has barely maintained a pace that would allow the continuation of all of its operations. Now this year, we've had extraordinary operations added on top of that.
To the knowledge of our witnesses, has the Canadian Armed Forces received any additional and supplemental funding to help take care of these extra duties they've been assigned during the pandemic?
Madam Chair, I'll also turn to my colleagues who will provide supplemental responses.
Of course, as our Canadian Armed Forces members deployed into these facilities, they were mobilized by Canada and Canadians for a reason. Certainly it was because of the gravity of the situation in those long-term care homes.
What they discovered—and I'll just report in general terms—in a number of facilities.... I should also note that each of the facilities was different, so this is not a generalization of all 50-plus facilities that the Canadian Armed Forces proudly served in alongside our civilian colleagues.
In some of the facilities they saw, for example, non-adherence to policies related to infection prevention and control. In some cases, they discovered inadequate training and medical supplies for facility staff. They observed deficiencies in long-term care infrastructure. There were concerns with the standard of care that was being delivered in support of Canadians or vulnerable residents in some facilities. Of course, there were high rates of staff illness, and as a result of that, in some cases, absenteeism exacerbated the conditions in some of those long-term care facilities.
I'll turn it over now to the surgeon general to see if he has additional feedback, and then we'll go over to the commander of the health services group.
On the departure of Canadian Armed Forces personnel from those facilities, we had established beforehand with each of the provinces what we referred to as “transition criteria” that needed to be met and agreed upon between the Canadian Armed Forces and those provinces.
First and foremost, before the Canadian Armed Forces teams left those facilities, the provincial ministries of health and long-term care needed to assess and signal to us that CAF support was not required in those specific facilities, and then a number of other criteria had to be satisfied. For example, we needed to have confidence that the facility had the integral capacity to manage the situation of the respective facility; that the infection prevention and control measures that I referred to earlier had been addressed, established and were being enforced; and that staffing levels were sufficient. Those transition criteria needed to be codified in an exchange of written instruments or letters between the province and the Canadian Armed Forces.
To answer your question, Madam Chair, in many cases when the Canadian Armed Forces vacated facilities, it was at the request of the respective provinces, and they handed those facilities back over to the facility management themselves.
You'll hear some discussion about the Canadian Red Cross surging into the province of Quebec, for example. They were directed to other facilities that required supports outside of those the Canadian Armed Forces had occupied.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I, too, would like to give a big thank you to the Canadian military. Your job of protecting us is difficult and dangerous at all times, but particularly now, so please pass on our gratitude.
My first question was posed by Mr. Robillard already, because I was interested in the Rangers as well, so thank you, Mr. Robillard. The rest of my questions were about the Rangers who, as you know, provide instrumental service in the military that, in some cases, no one else can provide. So a big thank you for that to the Canadian Rangers across the Arctic and the north.
The rest of my questions come from the excellent research done by the Library of Parliament, and perhaps Madame Dumont could pass on my gratitude to the great and professional work they always do for committees and members of Parliament.
Major-General, I wonder if you could update us on our mission in Latvia, as much as you can without threatening Canada's security, and then any changes that have occurred as a result of COVID.
We're also grateful for the support communicated to our Canadian Armed Forces members, and I will be very happy to pass that on.
As I indicated in my opening remarks, initially early in the pandemic, as we tried to learn about the disease that was confronting us and Canadians and the world, frankly, the chief of the defence staff made a decision to temporarily contract the global posture of the Canadian Armed Forces.
You specifically asked about our mission in Latvia, which is known as Operation Reassurance. As you know, we have deployed what we call an enhanced forward presence battle group.
Interestingly, as the chief of the defence staff looked at having to contract the global posture, given the situation in Latvia, our confidence, based on the chief of the defence staff's advice that he was getting from his medical advisers, was that we could make a determination that Canada would be able to continue its contribution relatively unimpeded in Latvia. Throughout this crisis, the CAF support to the enhanced forward presence battle group has continued, while, of course, respecting some of the public health measures in place locally in Latvia.
We had to contract the force a little more restrictively in other places like Iraq, for example, where the COVID situation was not under control. Other factors in Iraq, such as the geopolitical and security situation, also forced us to reassess our posture in the region.
Ukraine I would mention as well, specifically as one of the missions that required us to contract the force a little more, again because of the uncontrolled transmission of COVID-19 and the challenges that country is having.
In all cases where it's been possible, we've reinvigorated our collaboration, operations and training in support of our allies.
At the Canadian Armed Forces, we always strive to be a learning organization, to be able to dynamically capture, reflect on and share our lessons learned and observations from these types of operations. Operation Laser is no exception to that.
We have certainly learned a number of lessons from our operations inside long-term-care facilities, but also in other jurisdictions in support of Canadians. For example, specific to long-term-care, to address your question, we learned quite a bit throughout this pandemic in terms of how to properly don, use and take off medical-grade personal protective equipment. We've learned about some of the dynamics of mobilizing health services personnel to support some of our vulnerable populations. We've learned how to collaborate with different agencies in different levels of government.
Already, we've taken those lessons and shared them throughout the force. As we remain postured for additional potential requests for assistance, those troops will be going in having benefited from the tough lessons learned by some of their teammates.
I think the surgeon general might one to amplify one of those points.
One thing I've always been quite proud of is how the Canadian Armed Forces started down the path of mental readiness. During the Afghanistan deployment we had the road to mental readiness program.
I was a little bit concerned when I read in the media last week about Major Karoline Martin, who was working in the long-term care situation in Ontario. She was testifying at the commission. She was talking about how devastated the members of the Canadian Armed Forces were when they entered some of these facilities, by the squalor and the miscare of residents and our loved ones.
Is R2MR again being provided to our troops, for those who were in the long-term care homes and are still somewhat devastated from what they experienced, and who are, as well, being prepared to go in again if needed?
I'm going to start answering this from a chain of command perspective, and then hand if over to the surgeon general to talk about specific medical supports that are being mobilized for our members.
Certainly we all recognize that Canadian Armed Forces members are often deployed into some very difficult environments overseas as part of some of our international operations, and from time to time, here in Canada as well. It's why the military force of last resort is mobilized.
Long-term care was particularly challenging because, of course, we are Canadians first and foremost, and we do not like to see fellow Canadians suffering. So we deploy, as a priority, in support of those vulnerable Canadians.
I will say this in terms of what we try to do proactively to mentally prepare Canadian Armed Forces members for these types of operations. First of all, we always aim, in all echelons, to destigmatize mental illness, to make sure that Canadian Armed Forces members know that, first of all, they're going to be going into difficult environments, and if they have challenges, they can raise those concerns with their chain of command.
Leadership and cohesion factor into this significantly. You referred to the road to mental readiness program that helps to better visualize that environment to ensure that arousal control and different techniques are put into place for CAF members when they operate in those environments.
I'll hand it over now to our surgeon general to talk about some of the medical-specific supports and psychosocial supports that are available to CAF members.
Obviously, prevention is key in mental health, especially when members are exposed to challenging situations like a long-term care facility. This was a critical aspect of the preparation of our troops, and the road to mental readiness program, which has existed for many years, has been tailored to the specific needs of those troops going into long-term care facilities.
So we were able to make sure that a specific environment was captured, which allowed us to have a customized preparation of our troops. During the deployment itself, social workers were deployed and made available on a 24-7 basis for all of our members who were deployed in the long-term care facilities. The units also deployed chaplains as part of the support team, if you will, and who helped with addressing some of the challenges that our members could have been facing. Obviously, our 24-7 telephone supports were still available for our members during that time, as well as our peer support program, the OSISS program, and we were able to provide the care and support that those members needed during the mission.
Post-mission, we put in place another road to mental readiness program to close the loop from the prevention part of the mission, and then we also instituted a post-deployment screening process by which we'll be able to identify any members who might not have been captured during the deployment or immediately after. We usually do that three to six months after the deployment.
All of this is part of our ongoing approach to screen and identify members early who may be suffering from mental health challenges. In addition to that, we're conducting a research study to try to identify the challenges that our members have been and are going through, with the aim of trying to learn how we can better prepare them for future missions similar to this one.
Madam Chair, thank you very much.
I'd like to start by thanking our witnesses, our team of senior Canadian Forces officers, for being with us today and for their distinguished service, and through them, I'd like to also thank the women and men in uniform who are serving alongside them, with particular gratitude for the work the Canadian Forces are doing in helping us get through the pandemic.
I'd like to start with a question to take us back to some earlier discussions on training, and perhaps start with Major-General Cadieu.
To what extent is pandemic response training part of the Canadian Forces training package at the moment, from the very basic first steps, basic training, up to more advanced training in senior ranks? To the extent there are gaps, what would your vision be in strengthening that training?
Good afternoon, Madam Chair.
I want to thank the witnesses as well for their presentations, and certainly all of the men and women of our Canadian Armed Forces. I am fortunate to have a military base in my riding in Simcoe—Grey. At Base Borden, I have the opportunity to thank many of them in person.
I have a couple of questions pertaining to the base. On April 5, The Globe and Mail reported that Canadian Forces Base Borden would be the headquarters for the joint force central fight against COVID-19.
The minister did confront me a little bit later. I wish it was earlier because I was hearing all kinds of concerns from local residents about military seeming to be coming into a little town. I was getting lots of concerns as people were stressed about the pandemic and wondering what it meant. Maybe further on, the ministries could reach out to the local MP and give them a heads-up. That would certainly be appreciated.
They said that approximately 400 troops were stationed at Base Borden for Operation Laser. What was the actual number?
Thank you very much for that answer.
I have a follow-up, if I might. I'm sure you had isolation protocols at that particular base. Can you elaborate on them?
Earlier we talked, and I think it's fantastic that you've had this partnership for 20 years with the local hospitals. We have two that would be in our catchment area, RVH and Stevenson Memorial, which work hand and hand. Number one, are they kept abreast of all of the latest happenings as we get more military personnel in place? Number two, are you reaching out as well to local municipalities?
I know for a fact that Angus is part of it now, and there is going to be a COVID testing centre. Is there a COVID testing centre on base for your personnel, or our military, at this time? If not, do you work in conjunction to move these items forward?
Major-General Cadieu, Major-General Bilodeau, Rear-Admiral Patterson, Mr. Crosby, thank you very much for being here to present to us and to answer questions from the defence committee today.
In my community of Etobicoke Centre, we are mourning the loss of 42 residents to COVID-19 at the Eatonville long-term care centre. As devastating as this is, the death toll would have been much higher if it had not been for the members of the Canadian Armed Forces who were deployed there to care for people in my community, my constituents.
On behalf of my constituents and my community I'd like to start by thanking the Canadian Armed Forces for serving in our long-term care homes. I would particularly like to thank, and I would ask you to pass along my thanks if possible, to the Canadian Armed Forces members who cared for and who saved the lives of my constituents in Etobicoke Centre.
I would also like to thank you for something else. In May, the Canadian Armed Forces prepared a report describing horrific and abusive conditions at the five long-term care homes in Ontario where they were posted at the time. The horrific allegations described in that report, in my view, should alarm every single Canadian. The stories, the examples of mistreatment and abuse, described by the soldiers stationed at these homes I think are simply unacceptable, and I think all Canadians find them unacceptable.
As we rightly focus on the numbers and the statistics and some of the events, I think it's also important that we remember that behind these examples are human beings and our fellow citizens. They were mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. They were Canadians and they deserved better.
As a result of your report, four other MPs and I, who represent the constituencies in Ontario in which the CAF was serving in long-term care, wrote to Premier Ford and calling for a number of steps, including national standards for long-term care. Many other caucus colleagues joined that call. In the Speech from the Throne the government announced that it would be working with the provinces to do just that, to establish national standards for long-term care.
On behalf of my community I would like to thank the Canadian Armed Forces for caring for and saving the lives of my constituents in Etobicoke Centre. I would also like to thank the members of the Canadian Armed Forces for documenting what they discovered. This has enabled awareness, which has led to action and led to government committing to establishing national standards. When this is done I think this will make a difference for seniors for generations to come.
My thanks to you and all the members of the Canadian Armed Forces who were involved in Operation Laser.
Could you share with us some of the most troubling conditions that the Canadian Armed Forces discovered in our long-term care homes?
Just to piggyback on what General Cadieu has said, while there was no specific issue typical of all of the different installations in Ontario, we can certainly say, if I were to globalize it, that it was adherence to policies to help ensure that our most vulnerable residents were properly cared for— and, of course, within the actual report as you know, there are very specific examples, but in general, it was adherence to policies.
I think I could also point out the fact that we did go into those homes that were basically in crisis and at the invitation of the provincial government. We worked very, very closely in partnership with both the management and the leadership of the homes, as well as with the government. I can tell you that, when we were pointing out issues with policies or with standard of care delivery, everybody was very receptive to making the changes that were necessary, but with that, you also asked about other issues.
We talk about standards of care and, as you know, we were there to support the local facilities, and also, as military professionals, to achieve the mission that was set out for us. As well, as health care professionals, we have obligations to point out cases where there may be harm to our residents.
Again, the four themes we had a look at were lack of adherence to policies, inadequate staffing or even training of the care providers within the facility, and some challenges in the infrastructure.
Surgeon General, would you like to add anything else?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I am happy to hear that national standards are not what's missing; it is actually health transfers, which provincial governments, including Quebec's, have long been calling for. Nevertheless, I will not play politics in committee. That's not why we are here.
A lot of tough decisions had to be made in many areas, and the CAF was not spared. In the CAF's case, several important training courses were impacted. Career advancement courses were cancelled or postponed, or accommodated only a limited number of participants. That means fewer soldiers, fewer non-commissioned officers and fewer commissioned officers were trained. They, in turn, could have provided training to others.
How do these delays impact the readiness of the armed forces?
Madam Chair, I would like to thank the member for his question.
This pandemic, of course, has affected everyone globally, and many Canadians in the Canadian Armed Forces have not been spared that. It has required us to make some tough choices, as you've indicated.
First of all, to privilege the health of our members, when the chief of the defence staff initially ordered Canadian Armed Forces members to disperse, we activated what we refer to as our “business continuity plans” to better understand the environment that we were operating in and how serious this illness was going to be. In the short term, it forced us to stop what we refer to as our “force generation”, or our training activities. When we committed to operations in support of Operation Laser—the CAF support in long-term care facilities—it required us to hold in abeyance some of our additional training that would have been conducted at that time.
To respond to your question about what the impacts of the cancellations of training are going to be, first of all, there will be a delay in some cases to the professional development we deliver to Canadian Armed Forces members. Depending on how long this pandemic takes, it's going to impact our ability to increase our training throughput to what it once was. Second, it also speaks to the requirement to, in a responsible way, while ensuring that first and foremost, we are mobilizing to support Canadians in their time of need, that when we can do it responsibly, respect public health measures, social distancing, the use of non-medical masks and personal protective equipment. The Canadian Armed Forces does need to return to its training activities so we have a ready force that's prepared to respond not just domestically, but also to protect this country against external threats.
The Canadian Armed Forces are working very closely with the Public Health Agency and other federal government partners as part of the COVID-19 vaccine task force. We have already committed Canadian Armed Forces members and leaders as part of this effort.
Currently, we have a number of CAF members operating out of the Public Health Agency to establish what will be known as a “national operation centre”, which will be the command and control node, or the hub that will coordinate the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine across the country, including in northern and remote communities. Our chief of the defence staff has dispatched some of his best planners to work with the Public Health Agency to develop a logistic support plan that will, for all intents and purposes, be the manoeuvre plan to support the delivery of the vaccine across the country.
Beyond that, I believe the and the president of the Public Health Agency will be coming forward in short order with an update on the status of the logistic support plan, the distribution plan that's going to be put in place. In terms of the Canadian Armed Forces' role in that, we will continue to collaborate with the Public Health Agency to better understand what the needs of the CAF might be, and our chief of the defence staff will provide advice to the minister.
To address your specific point on support for northern and remote communities, our chief of the defence staff has made it clear that throughout this pandemic, we're to be prepared to provide support to those communities when called upon.
I appreciate the committee's flexibility in allowing me to join late here today and the opportunity to address some of these important questions.
When it comes to the supply chain, the way the spring played out was that the materiel group worked really closely with the Canadian Armed Forces to determine the critical fleet needs and our critical contracts. We looked at our available sparing and where we were from an activity level and the ability to support the activity levels that were being forecast at that point.
In the beginning, we identified a reduced number of fleets that were important to the ongoing operations, the responses under way, and we were able to look at supply and our ability to provide support over periods of 30, 60, 90 days and, as time went on, further into the future. There were different approaches, different considerations for those fleets. We ran into some interesting circumstances that we wouldn't have foreseen.
I'll give you a specific example. On our wheeled light support vehicle, we found that we were forecasting a shortage of a particular part of the brake cylinder. Interestingly enough, those brake cylinders are sourced from northern Italy. Rather than finding ourselves in a bind however, the combined team was able to look at the issues we were having with the brake cylinders and apply an engineering solution that allowed us to ensure that the supply of parts remained unimpeded and that the vehicles were available for Canadian Forces operations.
The situation is different in other circumstances, where moving parts and people, for example moving field service representatives across international and even provincial borders, has proven challenging at times. It remains challenging in certain cases where we have equipment coming from offshore, but we're able—
Thank you, Madam Chair, for the question.
I'll respond in two general categories.
The first category would be those projects that are largely being advanced through work that takes place in office spaces. In the beginning there was a little bit of a slowdown, as we came to grips with working remotely and through new technologies.
Generally, the projects that are advancing through the development of a request for proposal, such as the logistics vehicle modernization project or the remotely piloted aircraft system project—both of which have recently released significant portions of their draft requests for proposal—continue to advance. Similarly, the future fighter capability project, which has had the proposals in hand since the summer, has been able to advance.
There are challenges as we deal with a significant volume of classified information. Nevertheless, the team has found some really creative ways to ensure that we continue to move forward on those. I would see delays, potentially, in the order of weeks for any of those kinds of activities, but not measurable in the long term.
On the other hand, the projects that are in more of a production phase have been more challenging. The question touched on some of the shipbuilding projects. We can all appreciate that the physical distancing requirements on board a ship under production or on board a submarine going through a repair and overhaul have been more challenging. However, it's been remarkable to see the shipbuilding industry's response in finding solutions and working with its labour force to find ways to continue to move work forward. It's been quite astonishing. In fact, through the spring we were holding weekly defence industry advisory group meetings with the shipyards and there were 50 participants. They were quite readily sharing information on how best to respond and to continue to move forward.
Other projects in a production-type phase include the fixed-wing search and rescue project, which is the aircraft being produced in Spain. Airbus, the aircraft manufacturer in this case, did a phenomenal job of keeping the project moving forward according to its original timelines.
Again, moving back and forth across international borders has been challenging. We've actually made a deliberate choice to patriate and move some of the work that had originally been planned to occur in Spain to Comox, so that we would get ahead of future waves and uncertainty with the COVID situation. It set us back a little bit, but I think we're well positioned now to continue moving forward with the project in its current set-up.
As you can imagine, the Canadian Forces Health Services is a finite health resource, just as it is out in the civilian community.
As the pandemic has evolved, of course, we have needed not only to be ready to respond to Canadians but also to be ready to continue to provide care to Canadian Armed Forces members. As well, we also have families and we need to be able to balance out what's going on in our personal lives with everything else that's going on.
As the pandemic has unrolled we've made, certainly, extra efforts to prioritize the work that needs to be done. We're making sure that the needs of Canadian Armed Forces members as well as our personnel are met from a care perspective.
We have used criteria in our business resumption plans in order to make sure that as many people as possible are working remotely, because we are a civilian and military team, in order to continue providing the kind of care that has been available.
We've looked at other ways of giving access to care to Canadian Armed Forces members, things such as virtual care, a project we really hope to advance in the future.
When you talk about resiliency, I think it's about working hand in glove, physically distanced of course, with the chief of the defence staff and trying to meet all of his priorities.
This partnership between the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Armed Forces and the Public Health Agency is one that we are proud of in support of Canada.
As you indicated, at the start of this pandemic we worked very closely with the Public Health Agency, first of all on the successive repatriations of Canadians from China, Japan and the United States, and on the subsequent quarantine operations that were conducted out of Canadian Forces Base Trenton.
Following that we worked very closely with the Public Health Agency to facilitate the arrival, storage and distribution of medical materiel and personal protective equipment to Canadians. Currently, and moving forward, as I've indicated we are working closely in support of the Public Health Agency on the vaccine rollout strategy.
I do want to provide one point of clarification on that. The Canadian Armed Forces is working in support of developing a logistics support plan for the actual rollout of the vaccine. The role that the Canadian Armed Forces is going to play, or potentially going to play, in terms of the actual rollout of that vaccine has yet to be defined. That's the work that's ongoing right now to understand the needs of Canadians, provinces, territories and different jurisdictions.
Once the Public Health Agency, with the CAF in support, has worked that out, we would expect there would potentially be a request for Canadian Armed Forces assistance, which would be considered by our chief of the defence staff.
Madam Chair, thank you very much for this question, because in my other role, I am the defence champion for women, as I know you are aware.
With that, I thought I would give you the context of women in Operation Laser. I'm going to use health services as the example because, currently, with the about 18 different occupations that reside within health services, we're at about a fifty-fifty men and women division.
Throughout Operation Laser, we had about 1,772 personnel, both regular and reserve force, who were either actively engaged in all facets of Operation Laser or on standby in order to deploy. Out of those 1,700-plus people, over 700 were women. When we look at the actual work directly in long-term care facilities, of the health services personnel who were deployed—and there were about 729—393 were women. That is a good example of where the Canadian Armed Forces really has integrated gender into operations, whether it be domestically or internationally as General Cadieu has said, everywhere from leadership positions through to being key members of our team from the army, the navy or air force. With Operation Laser, we have integrated women fully into everything that's been done.
Our chief of the defence staff takes very seriously the health of the force—what we refer to as “force protection”. Whether he's deploying Canadian Armed Forces members into combat operations or in support of vulnerable Canadians in long-term care, he is very directive in ensuring that they have the safety equipment they require.
The CAF deployment to long-term care was no exception. He issued unambiguous direction that all CAF members go into long-term care facilities with the medical grade personal protective equipment that they required for that task and that they be adequately trained on that equipment.
Without exception, all Canadian Armed Forces members who did go into long-term care received material that had been certified, either by the Public Health Agency of Canada or by the Canadian Armed Forces health services team, to ensure that equipment complied with medical standards.
There was one stock—I can turn to our surgeon general to amplify this—as required, a stock of nitrile gloves that had reached its expiry date. It required certification before being issued to members. That was only after our health services and medical folks had determined that this material was still compliant all health standards.
I'll turn it over the surgeon general to see if he would like to amplify that.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I just want to thank all of our witnesses for your very comprehensive and knowledgeable answers, and also for protecting all the regular troops in my riding, which is all of the Yukon. They each have their own office and separate entrances into the building.
I just have one question in two parts. It's for Admiral Patterson. I want to zoom in on the needs of women in particular.
First, can you identify any special unique challenges for women caused by the COVID situation and any accommodation for that?
Second, as you know, our active troops are only half the story. Their families are the other half, as you mentioned, actually. I'm glad you mentioned that. Once again, for the women, children and men who have to stay home, there are great challenges as well, including mental health. Are there any special challenges for women who stay home, or any services or accommodations for that?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
First of all, gentlemen, thank you for being here today and for doing such outstanding work—work that is so very important. That is the first thing I wanted to tell you before I say, “see you next time.”
Under Operation Laser, the CAF provided support mainly in large centres, if I'm not mistaken. I am from a fairly remote region in Lac-Saint-Jean, and it has one of the highest infection rates in Quebec and Canada right now. So far, our health care system, our residential and long-term care centres, our hospitals and our private homes are coping. Most of them are more than an hour away from a military base, which has no reserve unit.
Does the CAF have a plan for rapid deployment to more rural areas, if it receives such a request?