The past five years seem to have given Canada time to learn important lessons about responding to international disasters. Contrast the performance of Canada in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake with its response five years ago to the south-east Asia tsunami, and one can see a vast improvement.
According to a CBC News report in 2005, John Watson, president and chief executive of CARE Canada, one of our country’s biggest relief organizations, assessed Canada’s response to the tsunami disaster as “amateur”.
There is no question that national response has been, in both cases, generous and beyond reproach. However, the reaction of the current government seems to have been more decisive, organized and coordinated. We now seem to know more precisely when, how and where to deploy our extraordinary Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART). During the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, there seemed to be much debate over when and how that team would be used—and how to get it to its destination.
Of course, one major development has occurred that has dramatically improved our ability to respond to humanitarian crises inside and outside of our borders: the rebuilding of our military capability. This is something significant that has happened since the Harper Conservatives took office in 2006. For example, we no longer have to rent heavy lift aircraft to move our assets from place to place—we now have that capacity “in house,” so to speak.
Canadians, it seems to me, take great satisfaction from the knowledge that in international crises Canada often hits above its weight. After seeing our country in action over the past several days, we have much of which to be proud.
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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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