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Richard Shimooka: Canada can help Ukraine in better ways than sending tanks

Commentary

Yesterday, the Government of Canada announced that it intended to send four Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine as part of an allied effort to rush modern capabilities to the battlefield. The decision has been marked by significant debate over the past few weeks surrounding whether, and how many, tanks should be provided by Ottawa, their utility in modern warfare, and the state of the Canadian Armed Forces’ combat capability. These are all issues worth unpacking.

It is important to understand that Canada’s army is built around an expeditionary concept of operations. Canada has no real direct threat to its land territory. The force structure is built around deploying and sustaining a mechanized brigade group (about 5,000 troops) outside of Canada. This includes artillery, infantry, support, and armoured vehicles. This approach was designed to sustain foreign operations, as typified by operations in former Yugoslavia or Afghanistan.

While there was a short-lived plan to replace Canada’s tanks with the Stryker Mobile Gun System (essentially a wheeled Light Armoured Vehicle III with a 105mm gun mounted on top) in the early 2000s, it was quickly discovered that conventional tanks continued to have utility on the battlefield—they provided a unique direct-fire capability to accurately hit defended positions in the Kandahar valley and could also shrug off attacks that would damage or disable other platforms. 

While there has been an extended commentary about the utility of tanks in modern warfare, they remain an integral part of any army’s force structure. They combine a synthesis of mobility, protection and firepower that can have decisive effects on a battlefield when used properly.

Canada’s armoured force design is also built around the expeditionary operations model, where the intent is that Canada could permanently deploy a squadron of around 20 tanks, which the total number of 82 then sustains. At any one time, a large number are undergoing routine maintenance or upgrades, which leaves only a few available for operations. There are also different versions of the tank in Canadian service, which roughly correspond to their intended role. First, Canada has 42 Leopard 2A4s that are largely used for training. These are the least capable version in Army service, and see the hardest usage of the entire fleet. Comments by the Chief of Defence Staff suggest that the four tanks that are to be sent to Ukraine come from this sub-fleet. The remaining 40 tanks are equally split between more heavily armoured 2A4M and 2A6M tanks. These two versions, which differ in the main gun they employ, are primarily used for foreign deployments as they are more capable than the standard 2A4. This arrangement worked relatively well in the past. However, there are two significant problems.

First, Canada’s armoured corps is currently in a relatively mediocre state. This is partly the result of manning levels and the geographic distribution of bases, which has detrimentally impacted the army’s ability to sustain a tank squadron. As such, it might not be able to deploy and sustain 20 tanks. This is a story that is extremely common across the CAF. The CF-18s and Halifax class-frigates are similarly highly constrained in their operations by the lack of personnel. In addition, the Leopard 2 fleet also requires an inordinate amount of time to maintain, and spare parts are hard to come by in Canada. Many European countries also have similar issues; the Royal Air Force’s Eurofighter Typhoon fighter, for instance, has been plagued by parts problems and high maintenance time. The current situation facing Canada’s Leopard tanks should be seen as a lesson for policymakers in Ottawa to get their respective house in order. 

Second, while this force structure is lean and efficient under normal circumstances, Canada has little excess capacity to sustain losses or provide tanks to Ukraine without harming readiness. Four tanks are likely the most that the Canadian Army can provide immediately without harming its ability to train personnel. While providing more tanks to Ukraine further mires Russia’s forces in the conflict and supports Canada’s security interests, one cannot ignore the potential for direct escalation between Russia and NATO, regardless of the number of Leopards that are sent. The CAF already maintains an enhanced forward presence in Latvia, and a key contingency the army must plan for is to reinforce that unit. Canada’s tanks would be a key part of any force, particularly considering they are the army’s main system to defeat enemy tanks. The four tanks the CAF is donating come from the most numerous but least capable versions—their loss should not appreciably impact the future readiness of the armoured corps. However, the provision of additional vehicles may increasingly have consequences for the army. 

Canada would also not be able to reliably replace such tanks. Leopard production has been relatively low, with the majority of work surrounding refurbishing old tanks into new models. Thus, donating any number will likely result in a permanent loss of combat power, at least for the foreseeable future. 

Canada may not have a surplus of Leopards, but European countries do possess substantial reserves of the tank. During the Cold War, our European allies maintained a large standing and reserve forces in the event the conflict ever became hot. They maintained significant numbers of tanks in reserve storage, even as many of these states converted their militaries towards the expeditionary model by the 1990s. As such, many of them have dozens if not hundreds of Leopards that could be donated to Ukraine without the same pernicious effects on their force structure compared to Canada. Unofficial tallies about potential donations from countries like Spain and Finland illustrate this. 

Instead of Leopards, a more prudent course of action would be for Ottawa to provide capabilities that it can sustain and reliably deliver for the length of the conflict. Canada has already provided 39 Armoured Combat Support Vehicles (ACSVs), built by General Dynamic Land Systems in London Ontario on the LAV6 Chassis. While certainly not as flashy as the Leopard 2 tank, vehicles such as these provide a valuable combat capability within a modern combat team. They are better than the Ukrainian Army’s current system in that role, the Soviet-era BTR-80. As a Canadian product, Ottawa can control a number of variables to maximize its effectiveness in Ukrainian service—this includes the provision of spare parts, complex repair work, and training. 

However, obtaining additional ACSVs or similar types will require Ottawa to get creative. The 39 vehicles donated last summer were awaiting acceptance into the Canadian Army, but no more surplus vehicles currently exist. Some options include diverting existing Canadian or other allies’ orders to Ukraine or expanding production lines. While developing such an option requires significant negotiation and out-of-the-box thinking in Ottawa, it would be a valuable contribution to Ukraine’s ultimate peace and security.

Benjamin Lamb: Politicians can no longer ignore Canada’s porn problem

Commentary

The past several years have witnessed growing policy and political attention on the economic, social, and moral costs of pervasive pornography in our societies. The 2015 British Conservative Party platform, for instance, committed to new age verification requirements for people to access websites with pornographic material. Last year, the European Union passed an omnibus Digital Services Act to regulate social media platforms’ content including removing child pornography.  

These developments have, in general terms, not yet found expression in Canadian political and policy debates. Canada ranks seventh in the world for daily porn consumption on PornHub, one of the largest and most significant pornographic websites in the world—and one which is actually owned and operated in Canada. We’re not just consumers, in other words. We’re effectively exporting pornography to the rest of the world.

This ought to cause some reflection on the part of Canadian policymakers and the broader public. There’s a large body of evidence that pervasive pornography comes with various detrimental effects —ranging from its normative consequences for our conception of human dignity to its neurological imprint on its consumers. This point cannot be overstated: research tells us that porn consumption is associated with a raft of negative individual and collective consequences that warrant greater attention in Canada. 

Start with the neurological research. Human minds are influenced by what they consume online and pornography is no exception. According to a 2014 study by German-based scholars, Jürgen Gallinat and Simone Kühn, continued consumption of pornography effectively rewires the brain to perceive pornography as a reward. As the brain’s neural pathways get “bored” with certain content over time, there’s a need for ”novel” pornographic experiences to better activate its cranial reward system (otherwise known as the “Coolidge Effect”).

It prompts the question: if porn consumption, has such a profound impact on the brain, what does that impact imply on human behaviour and relationships?  

The list is quite long. Just consider the following: 

  • Porn consumption is consistently associated with social challenges with loneliness and poorer mental health
  • It’s also found that those interested in graphic and abusive pornography are more likely to reenact it with their partner during sex. 
  • Research by Alberta-based scholar Kyler Rasmussen finds a relationship between porn consumption and dissatisfaction with romantic or marital relationships. 
  • A separate study correlates increased porn consumption and sexual violence, and the National Human Trafficking Hotline in the United States reports that pornography is the third most common form of sex trafficking. 

These examples are hardly exhaustive. They’re merely a sample of a growing body of scholarship that documents the harms associated with porn consumption. 

Canadians are not immune to these risks. According to PornHub’s 2022 Annual Report, for instance, Canadians averaged 10 minutes of daily porn consumption on the site, which is more than an hour per week on that platform alone. Three-quarters of this porn traffic consumption was done on smartphones. The risk of course is that the ever-present combination of online pornography and smartphone technology grants Canadian teenagers an unprecedented ability to access pornography including depictions of rape and other forms of sexual violence. 

This ought to be a concern for Canadian policymakers in light of the research that proves the effects of porn consumption are not just internalized by individuals but can spill out into the broader society. Canadians are not exempt from the mental and social ills that stem from pornography. 

What options are available to policymakers? 

It starts with investigating the effects that increased porn usage in Canada will have on the mental and sexual health of Canadians. This isn’t about moral judgement or shaming. It’s about trying to understand how to mitigate the negative effects of pornography in our society. Critics will say it is an unsolvable problem. They are wrong. We have what it takes to maturely talk about increased pornography use in Canada. We also have what it takes to deploy solutions. Drawing attention to the size, scope, and nature of the problem, though, is a necessary start. 

As for broader solutions, there is a range of other steps that federal and provincial policymakers could consider. At the level of education, for instance, provinces could update curricula for students, especially in elementary school, so as to educate their awareness about the consequences of consuming pornography.  

Outside of the classroom, society should exact greater transparency out of Canada’s domestic porn industry cabal, as they meticulously endeavour to ensnare more users, regardless of the moral and health consequences. This industry should not get away with attaching more and more people to porn addiction. Their business models should be subject to the highest scrutiny and toughest regulations including going so far as to try and make their for-profit scheme untenable.

There are practical ways to gradually reduce the porn industry’s operations in Canada. Legislators should make porn producers criminally responsible if they fail to verify the age of consent when they produce content for profit. Part of this offence should entail a complete and permanent shutdown order of operations if they do not verify the age of consent. The porn industry is not just another private business; they are producing content capable of wreaking serious damage to our children’s mental health. 

On the public health side, officials could recognize pornography consumption as an official mental health addiction. This gesture would draw much-needed attention to increased pornography consumption. Community leaders should prioritize and promote recovery programs that normalize healing from pornography addiction, such as Fortify, Conversation BluePrint, and Bark. 

The good news is that all of these policy responses, aside perhaps from regulating internet content, can be implemented relatively quickly. Addressing pornography in our society may be an uncomfortable subject. But we cannot afford to neglect it any longer.

There will no doubt be arguments against these types of policies including appeals to freedom and individual choice, but these considerations needed to be weighed against the economic, social and moral costs—particularly for young people—of today’s culture of pervasive pornography. The case for action seems increasingly self-evident.

Yet notwithstanding the odd murmur or acknowledgement in parliamentary debates, Canada’s political class has been largely silent on pornography. That silence should end now. For the sake of Canadians’ dignity and well-being, implementing porn-reduction strategies is not something we should scroll away from.