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Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance on what China is doing to Canada

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“This was an interesting forum,” Gen. Jonathan Vance said as I took a seat in the second-floor suite that had been set aside for him as a meeting room at the Westin Nova Scotian hotel. This was a couple of weeks ago, on the last day of the annual Halifax International Security Forum, a global gathering of soldiers, politicians, diplomats and think tankers, who spend a weekend each autumn discussing what ails the world.

As Canada’s Chief of Defence Staff, the country’s leading soldier, Vance is a Halifax regular. This was the sixth forum he’s attended. But it wasn’t like the others. Much of the discussion this year was about the grim rise, not of stateless and amorphous groups like Al Qaeda or the so-called Islamic State, but of two very familiar country-sized antagonists: Russia and China.

The “number one” trend at this year’s forum was “the resurgence of great-power dynamics,” Vance said.  “There’s extreme concern about what some nations—you know, particularly Russia and China—are doing. The thwarting of international norms and standards that we’ve lived with for a very long time.”

Here, Vance was echoing the 2018 National Defense Strategy, released early this year by U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. It announced a return of great-power competition—principally against China and Russia—as the highest U.S. strategic priority, effectively demoting ISIS and Iran to lower levels of concern.

But if the adversaries are familiar, the methods aren’t. “The nature of warfare and conflict is changing. And it’s changing very, very quickly,” Vance said. “Political objectives can be achieved with military force—or with the harmonization of other influencers short of war.”

READ MORE: China is a bigger threat than Russia—but you won’t hear Trudeau say it

As examples, he mentioned the Russian attack on Ukraine—often denied or dissimulated by the Russians—and a range of tactics China is using to destabilize other countries in the Indo-Pacific region. It’s the furthest thing from classical warfare, where armies line up in a field and have at it. It’s… destabilizing. “If you’re fighting below the threshold of war, if you want to punch, where are you going to punch, and with what? That’s the question of our age.”

The Chinese tactics are, if anything, more novel and disturbing than Russia’s. China has spent recent years dumping tonnes of landfill into the South China Sea to build up a string of tiny coral reefs into a network of new and formidable naval military bases. These places used to be meaningless dots in the Indo-Pacific, shipping hazards worst. Now several of them sport two-mile runways, anti-aircraft missiles and other features designed to project the country’s power hundreds of miles further forward. “China is using coercive tactics short of armed conflict,” a 2016 Pentagon report said, “to advance their interests in ways that are calculated to fall below the threshold of provoking conflict,”

The challenge for Canada and its allies, Vance said, “is to define with confidence where does competition stop and conflict start in any domain. It’s pretty clear if you draw a line on a map and they cross it and they’re not supposed to, then it could be an act of war. [But] the line is less certain in the information space, in cyberspace, in the cognitive domain, in monetary terms. You know, destroying your economy—is that an act of war?”

This was all getting pretty abstract. I decided to put a concrete case to Vance. A case from close to home. “Let me just ask out loud what I sometimes wonder,” I said to him. “When I look at the opioid crisis, when I look at the housing market in Vancouver, when I look at money laundering—has Canada been, this year, a target of antagonistic state action by China?”

“I would say we have been for some time,” Vance replied. “I mean, I don’t think it’s just this year.”

“Now, is it antagonistic, deliberately vectored and targeted? I don’t know. But the impact on us is antagonizing, and whether or not it’s deliberately intended that way or if it’s a by-product of something else…” he trailed off.

“Interesting you mention the opioid crisis. So here’s—I’m just giving you a sense of how I see the security domain.” Health Canada reports that between 2016 and 2018, 8,000 people died in Canada of apparently opioid overdoses. “If we had that many people being killed by something somewhere else in the world,” Vance said, “and Canadians were dying at that rate, we would be mustering an awful lot of our resources to deal with it. I think Canada’s trying to deal with it as well as we can. But what’s the nature of that threat? Have we determined that threat to be a by-product of something else, or is it a direct threat?”

By now, Vance’s answer to my deliberately provocative question was getting long, and it wasn’t a No. “Deliberate? Not sure,” he said. “Is it antagonizing? Is it painful for this country? Yes. It’s really not my domain to advise upon, but we’re certainly feeling it.”

In a world where threats are mounting but the nature of conflict is morphing perhaps beyond recognition, Vance said, it does no good to staff up the Canadian Forces with people who share similar experience and ways of thinking. This is his pitch for diversity in soldiers’ background, and especially for recruiting more women into active duty.

“You know, people could accuse me of virtue signalling around diversity,” he said. “It’s got nothing to do with virtue signalling. It has everything to do with, if we aren’t tapping our population into our military with creative, critical thinking and a diverse range of thought and skill sets, we’ll be bringing a tactical tool”—that is, old-fashioned equipment—“to a digital fight. That won’t win.”

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‘Too soon to celebrate’ Ottawa’s low case count, says Etches

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Ottawa Public Health (OPH) logged just 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the lowest daily total since Sept. 1.

Because of the lag between testing and reporting, the low number could simply reflect low turnout at the city’s testing sites on weekends — all month, new case counts have been lower on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

During a virtual news conference Tuesday, the city’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said she doesn’t read too much into a single day’s report.

“I don’t think we can make too much of 11. Actually, it could be a lot higher tomorrow — I would expect that, on average,” she said. “It’s too soon to celebrate.”

Provincewide, public health officials reported 1, 249 new cases Tuesday.

OPH also declared 62 cases resolved Tuesday, lowering the number of known active cases in the city to 462. Two more people have died, both in care homes currently experiencing outbreaks, raising the city’s COVID-19 death toll to 361. 

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Santa Claus isn’t coming to Ottawa’s major malls this year

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Santa Claus may still be coming to town this Christmas, but he won’t be dropping by any of Ottawa’s major malls, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, Cadillac Fairview said Santa won’t be making an appearance at any of its 19 malls across Canada, including Rideau Centre in downtown Ottawa. On Tuesday, Bayshore and St. Laurent shopping centres confirmed they, too, are scrapping the annual tradition.

“Due to the evolution of the situation in regards to COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel our Santa Program and Gift Wrap Program this year,” Bayshore spokesperson Sara Macdonald wrote in an email to CBC.

Macdonald said parent company Ivanhoé Cambridge cancelled all holiday activities “due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the country.”

Macdonald said families that had already booked an appointment to visit Santa will receive an email with more information.  

Virtual visits with Santa

Rideau Centre said based on customer research and discussions with public health officials, its North Pole is going online this year.

“Children will be able to have a private chat with Santa,” said Craig Flannagan, vice-president of marketing for Cadillac Fairview. “You’ll also be able to join a 15-minute storytime with Santa over Facebook Live.” 

At Place d’Orléans Shopping Centre, visitors are invited to take a “selfie with Santa” — actually, a life-size cutout of Santa Pierre, the man who’s been playing Santa at the east end mall for years.

“We understand that this is not ideal, but in lieu of this tradition we will be doing what we can to maintain and encourage holiday cheer,” according to a statement on the mall’s Facebook page.

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Ottawa Bylaw breaks up two large parties in Ottawa over the weekend

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Bylaw is investigating social gatherings of more than 10 people in private homes across Ottawa last weekend.

Mayor Jim Watson tells Newstalk 580 CFRA that Ottawa Bylaw broke-up two house parties over the weekend, with 20 to 25 people at each party.

“That’s the kind of stupidity that angers me, that’s where the bulk of the transmissions are taking place, if we exclude the tragedy of the long-term care homes; it’s these house parties with unrelated people,” said Watson on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa at Work with Leslie Roberts.

“The message doesn’t seem to be getting through, particularly to some young people who think they’re invincible.”

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Bylaw and Regulatory Services Director Roger Chapman says, “There are still ongoing investigations from this past weekend that could result in charges.”

Chapman says recent investigations led to two charges being issued for social gatherings of more than 10 people in a private residence in contravention of the Reopening Ontario Act.

“In one case, up to 30 individuals were observed attending a house party in Ward 18 on Oct. 24,” said Chapman.

“The second charge was issued following a house party in Ward 16 on Oct. 31, where up to 16 individuals were observed to be in attendance.”

The fine is $880 for hosting an illegal gathering.

Alta Vista is Ward 18, while Ward 16 is River Ward.

Ottawa Bylaw has issued 24 charges for illegal gatherings since the start of the pandemic.

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