Thursday, July 20, 2006


The Globe & Mail online edition has an in depth look at the evacuation of Canadians from Lebanon which I can only imagine will be on the front page of their paper tomorrow. In it, they paint a picture of ineptitude, disarray, and confusion. In fairness, not all of the problems can be traced back to the Canadian government, but this passage is far from flattering towards the Prime Minister:

Aside from shortage of staff, the Canadians involved in the operation say they were hampered by another difficulty: the Prime Minister's centralized command and communications policies - frustrations that were expressed both in the Middle East and in Ottawa.

All decisions had to be made and approved by Ottawa. And, with six time zones between the locations, decisions were often painfully slow.

While other countries were already marshalling large cruise ships on Sunday, Canada spent two days in long-distance discussions before any calls were made.

"It was only 24 to 36 hours ago that we first got in contact with the owners of the ships," one senior official in Cyprus said Wednesday.


  • Is there anything on *which* countries are getting their citizens out before Canada? I've heard reported that 40,000 Canadians have registered with the embassy in Lebenon - that seems like a lot to me, and I think Canada has one of the largest foriegn contingents in Lebanon. Are the countries that are moving faster dealing with significantly fewer citizens? I haven't seen a comparison of this kind anywhere.

    By Blogger Matthew, at 8:04 AM  

  • I'd like to understand why Canadians are so pissed off that they werent evacuated first.

    We had no capabilities in the region, we had no idea we'd have to evacuate people and we have no experience evacuating 40,000 people.

    People should be grateful there were even evacuations.

    By Blogger Riley Hennessey, at 8:52 AM  

  • Yeah, I pretty much disagree... I do feel the government is doing a satisfactory job.

    -This was a surprise.
    -This is the largest, far as I know, evacuation in Canada's history.
    -The other countries who are ahead of us have vastly fewer people to take out.
    -One of the "good", praised countries is Australia, which has inquired with us about co-operating to take out Australians - so we can't be doing that badly.
    -The countries that started evacuations quicker were taking out very small amounts of people - had we done the same, we'd be talking the smallest kind of fraction of the mass total.

    I have to say, Harper's plane "stunt" doesn't seem too crass to this cat... with no media allowed on board in order to make room for the most people possible, I don't think it's very showboat-y, it could be much much moreso.

    By Blogger Jason Bo Green, at 9:50 AM  

  • By the way, I've posted links to two excellent articles (on the Arab League's reaction against Hezbollah and quiet satisfaction with Israel's actions against them, and on the possibility of a mass uprising by Muslim Arabs against their fundamentalist fascist controllers) on my blog, they're very good reading.


    By Blogger Jason Bo Green, at 9:56 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Ed King, at 9:59 AM  

  • matthew,

    Page 3 of this G&M article has some information.

    By Blogger Ed King, at 10:01 AM  

  • As far as this being a surprise, I seem to remember something in the G&M article about there having been rumblings of an evacuation last week, but foreign affairs officials having been told to keep the whole thing under wraps. I don't know if this meant "work out a plan, but keep it quiet" or "minimize the perception of a need for evacuation", but either way this was not a total surprise. Yes, Canada does have a larger contingent of its nationals in Lebanon than any country bar Sri Lanka, but that doesn't explain why it is behind in the evacuation in not just relative but absolute terms: so far fewer Canadians have been removed than Americans, French, or Britons.

    Obviously, if our evacuation picks up and turns out successfully, I doff my hat to whoever organized it. But for the time being: not impressed.

    By Blogger Jessica, at 10:04 AM  

  • Matthew, the answer is 'yes' check out my post on it in my blog, I've used almost every source at my disposal to compile a list of who started evacuating whom and how many.

    CG, as someone who has dealt with around the world time differences (i used to live in China and Japan), they can be a real pain, especially if you need to get approval for something.

    Most countries don't have to deal with the time difference as much as Canada/US have to.

    By Blogger SouthernOntarioan, at 10:21 AM  

  • I can't believe the "uproar" that particularly the national TV media has tried to promulgate on this situation.

    It is not hard to imagine that among thes tressed out people in Lebanon who are trying to get out that you are going to hear complaints. That is easy, easy TV. I would be complaining too if I had to sit in 40 degree weather, little idea of what or when things will progress, and hearing bombs exploding in the background.

    But what has that to do with the reality of what Canada has to deal with? We do not have a fleet in the ares (France and the US does and with airlift capability), we chartered 7 boats, 6 of which needed to hear from the Isrealies that they would get safe passage.

    People, this is a war zone, and this is the largest evacuation in our history, and we have the largest continency of foreign nationals there of ANY country.

    Give the people at Foriegn Affairs a chance. They are doing the best they can under very difficult circumstances. I note that the first U.S. ship got to Cyprus only hours before the first Canadian ship did.

    I was pretty surprised with Harper's move of re-routing his plane, and hair on him for doing so. No media, skeleton security staff, and maximum effort to get refugees back to Canada.

    Give the government a break, I really can't see how anyone could of done better under these circumstances.

    By Blogger Andy, at 10:25 AM  

  • Jessica,

    I believe I'm being charitable by saying it is delusional to believe Canada has the resources to match the Americans, French or British --never mind the geographical disadvantage.

    By Blogger Dr. Strangelove, at 10:31 AM  

  • Word around town here in Ottawa is that the 'crats at Foreign Affairs really dropped the ball. The Director General responsible for this sort of thing remains on vacation and they did not even put a task force together until a few days ago. What's worse, unlike other countries, they failed to get extra staff onto the ground in Beirut until today.

    PMO has been heavy handed in the past regarding comms matters, but I find it hard to believe that they told Foreign Affairs to slow down (which is implied in the G&M article).

    If we're playing the "blame game" I think boys and girls in pinstripes need to take their fair share along with their political masters who did not crack the whip fast enough.

    By Blogger Scott in Ottawa, at 11:37 AM  

  • Apparently Canada has THE largest foreign contingent in Lebanon. More than double number number of Americans.. so it's quite a job to get them all out of there.

    By Blogger Toronto Tory, at 11:49 AM  

  • to add to Toronto Tory:

    the bigger contingent to evacuate the more complicated the plan and procurement of resources to do the evacuation.

    By Blogger Chuckercanuck, at 12:43 PM  

  • Harper gets his photo op for the next fundraising appeal or the next refresh of the excessively Harperized federal government webpage.

    By Blogger Cove Blogger, at 1:24 PM  

  • Mesopotamia derives from the Greek for "between the rivers" (hippopotamus has the same root). The two rivers are the Tigris and the Euphrates, so Mesopotamia refers exclusively to Iraq. Lebanon is not part of Mesopotamia.

    By Blogger Juan David, at 1:43 PM  

  • By Blogger What_The_Puck?, at 2:35 PM  

  • Outside of the hyper hyperventilating at the red star and hyperventilating at the grope and flail, the evacuation seems to be pretty much standard for war time evac. In other words, it's very screwed up, since people aren't overly concerned about making an orderly queue, ship owners are hesitant (to say the least) to have their ships in harm's way, everything takes more time to organize than it should, and there is a mass clamour for sealift by all countries.

    France and the UK have the advantage of being in theater, so have short decision lopps. These countries, along with the US, have large fleet presences in the Eastern Med and have their own sea and airlift (those Chinooks the US was using over the weekend to get emergency evacuees out before they could get sealift to port yesterday... pity we sold ours to the Dutch). Outside of those three, Canada is on pace with everyone (and has sealift at the same time as the French and Americans), but for the screw up with 6 of the ships.

    If all 7 ships had been able to land and take people, things would have been fine, but they weren't. Is this because of evil Stephen Harper? Pace Bill Graham, but it's vastly more likely that it's just one of those things that happens when running an evacuation of a war zone. Is it a good things? Obviously not, and their performance needs to improve.

    The crush of people at the port highlights the intelligence and quality of the process that the embassy has been denounced for. While eveyrone wants to get out now, if only those people called showed up to the port there would have been much less danger to the evacuees from fainting, the crush, etc. Waiting in place is an uncomfortable thing to do, but it is the best way to get the highest and safest evacuation.

    Hopefully people will not throng the port, the boats will go through, and Hezbollah won't use that concentration of foreign nationals and sectarian enemies as a target of opportunity like it did in the 80s. This is one time when everyone needs to support the efforts in every way possible. After we get people out lets go through the operation with a fine toothed comb, but let's save the partisan bickering until our citizens are home safe. The government is on the case, we're devoting large resources to the operation, and things should proceed at speed as the days go by. This is not the same as past situations where it took several weeks for a "rapid response team" to be sent. I trust the people at foreign affairs as far as I can thrown the parliament buildings, but lets focus on ways to improve the performance until we get our people out. Then we can start going after bureaucrats and politicians who weren't doing their jobs (though anyone who's on vacation needs to be called out immediately).

    By Blogger Hey, at 3:33 PM  

  • jason bo green opined:

    "-This was a surprise.
    -This is the largest, far as I know, evacuation in Canada's history.
    -The other countries who are ahead of us have vastly fewer people to take out."

    Let me get this straight...

    ^ Before the conflict started, it was known that there were about 21,000 Canadians in Lebanon. Hmmm, that's not exactly a small number. And any fool knows that an estimate in such a situation would be under by a significant factor.

    ^ They are in the Middle-Freakin-East! Don't you think evacuation plans, for a wide range of contingencies, with backup and back-backup plans would be de jour? Canadians are known throught the world for expertise in communications and logistics. Ooops, WERE known. That capital/rep is badly eroded.

    ^ All decisions lay in Ottawa and the time zone difference affected that? PUH-LEEZE!

    First of all, centralizing command and control in this type of logistical crisis is insane ... but very much CPC, of course.

    Second, if you cannot get people in Ottawa to work hours synchronous with those trying to handle such a crisis, then give up your government, and give decision making power and spending authority to those who are in the best position to make such decisions. (Note: My company is a globaly firm that spans timezones from the UK to all zones in North America to the Phillipines to India. I can assure you that in a crisis people would be on call and on duty. And we only have about 10,000 people in the whole company across all those locations, not 30-40,000 lives at stake in a war zone.)

    ^ Other countries doing better on a per capita basis? Nah, you don't get away with the tactic of changing the subject/ and redirection on me. Others may fall for the McKay/Harper line, but I don't compare my country's response to another's to deflect responsibility. I look to a standard of excellence, not "We're almost as good as ...." And I think the numbers for the US are fairly close to Canada, so that argument wouldn't even wash even if it were relevant.

    Without a doubt this was/is an extremely difficult situation, and there was/is no way an immediate, entirely smooth evacuation could be accomplished. So no, I don't expect perfection.

    But the way Ottawa has handled this and the BS explanations for mis-steps are a disgrace. Shame.

    By Blogger WeeDram, at 10:48 PM  

  • Another revelation, in the Star:

    "In Ottawa, Foreign Affairs Department officials acknowledged that a desire to save money may have hampered the evacuation.

    “When this operation began we took a decision to contract ships for a certain number of days because we have no way of predicting out how long the crisis is going to last, how much demand were going to have,” an official told a background briefing.

    “Looking at the taxpayer’s dollar, we don’t want to contract ships for a week or two weeks without knowing the extent of the crisis so were being cautious in that respect.

    “That means that some of the ships we may have used may have been picked up by others. It’s not like we have a flotilla on standby.” "

    Unless definitely proven otherwise, how else can we characterize this than putting a price on lives?

    By Blogger WeeDram, at 11:10 PM  

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