This is Tuesday after the raid (on Sunday) and the Chief of Defence Staff is about to brief the Minister of National Defence. You may remember that the MND was present at the previous briefing, but ignore that fact. This scene here is the moment when the army presents its first initial assessment of the recent events to the civilian leadership. Just in case there is any doubt as to who the alpha male is, Gen Bishop lets Jim Riley hang for a few seconds before he begins:
‘Finally, after Jim Riley had settled into his chair, General Bishop poured himself a glass of water, finished adjusting his glasses, and got ready to speak.’
Thanks to his improbable meteoric rise, Gen Bishop has been given a free hand to build his headquarters to his liking. The clagg of new model officers that he has brought up are apparently all professionals after his own heart, known by detractors and haters as ‘Bishop’s Brats’ although none dare calls these Real Soldiers® that to their faces.
Across the table from them is their boss.
This is a fact that’s going to need to be stated here and I’ll have to come back to the point repeatedly since Bland ignores it throughout the novel: the Minister of National Defence Jim Riley is General Bishop’s boss. He is the elected official who has been appointed to head up DND and as far as any officer in this room is concerned, he is Canada. Keep that in mind throughout the briefing as the contempt with which the army holds their civilian leadership becomes evident.1
Huge tracts of Douglas Bland’s Uprising are taken up with briefing after briefing, and some of these are just going to be a tired re-tread of information we already know (one of those is coming up shortly, and I’ll be skipping as much as possible when we get there). Ones like these (along with Bill Whitefish’s briefing at Akwesasne and an upcoming flashback scene) turn out to be treasure troves of information.
Not actual real-world information that could educate the reader on the real-life state of Indigenous affairs and how these could fuel a hypothetical rebellion. Not detailed world-building information that helps us situate ourselves in this fictional Canada that Bland has created in order to better appreciate the significance of his story. Not even a scene that lays out a complex character interaction that informs the reader as to who these people are, paving the way for an understanding of why they’ll do the things they eventually do.
No, this briefing (and the many others like it) is a window into the mind of Douglas Bland, and the worldview he espouses. It will take some close reading to suss out the gems of insight, but there’s some really unsettling material to be found here.
Not content to let his experts do the talking, Gen Bishop opens up the briefing with a long, drawn out airing of his own opinions on the subject.2 Much like the scenes involving Molly Grace, these first few paragraphs are a self-opening piñata of wrong, so I’m going to quote it in full:
“Minister, this evening we are going to put in a larger context our assessment of the raids we experienced on Sunday night. I want you to think in terms of vulnerabilities, not threats. The native people, if they’re well organized-and we’l speak to this point during this briefing-are situated in bands and on reserves that sit astride the east-west lines of communications and transportation on which Canada’s national economy depends. They sit next door to most of the major sources for our resource industries and on the north-south lines that take them to the industrial bases in Ontario, Quebec, and B.C. They also sit astride the oil, natural gas, and hydro lines that fuel southern Canada and a good deal of the United States.
“Northern Quebec and the James Bay power generation facilities are particularly vulnerable. The transmission lines from the facilities run south for nearly 1,000 kilometres. They are not only undefended but probably indefensible. On the Prairies, the natural gas and oil pipelines are the great vulnerability. The above-ground lines and transfer stations that keep things flowing are all unprotected. A few kilos of explosives, a mere fraction of what was stolen in the raids this week, would put them all out of action. The natives don’t have to control the entire territory to cripple Canada. They just have to make raids on the isolated lines from the safety of reserves.
“Minister, the threat we face from the native population may be small in the sense that they can’t seize and hold major cities or even towns. But our vulnerability to the threat they could pose is extremely high. In risk management terms, our economy, freedom to travel, and relations with the United States are in the hands of actors we can’t control.
“Moreover, we have few ways to redress the threats or to substitute other things to diminish our vulnerability. We have thousands of what we call vital points to protect and very few people and resources to protect them. If, for instance, we were to stand still, guarding pipelines, the native could attack other targets. If we were to try to chase them around, they could blend into the reserves and the peaceful population, and strike when we go somewhere else.
“In most of the scenarios we have constructed from the intelligence we have about what radical native leaders might be contemplating, we are in very big trouble. And as you will hear in these briefings, the opportunities we have left open for someone to attempt something dramatic are frighteningly large. This evening, over the next couple of hours, we’re going to paint these vulnerabilities in bright colours.”
Bishop left his assessments hanging before the minister’s3 eyes, then he continued.
Minister, I will make a few more comments, and then two of my senior officers will review the data for you. These remarks and briefings are intended to add some flesh to the image of the barebones vulnerability I just presented to you. We must assume after Sunday’s raids that the facts and figures to follow-once the framework for the hypothetical threat-are now the framework for the probably future for Canada over the next several months.”
Take a moment to turn that phrase over in your mind. ‘Think in terms of vulnerabilities, not threats.’ In many ways, it’s a perfect summary of Bland’s approach in terms of appraising any possible threat from Canada’s Indigenous People (or presumably, any other scary minority out there). Don’t think in terms of a threat. Don’t in terms what might actually be out there, or what past events might teach you about the future. Worry about how vulnerable you might be from the worst case scenario and start your planning from there.
More than anything else, this is the reason I’m freaking out about this novel.
In the real world, there’s a couple of different ways to do what’s called your combat estimate. As far as assessing enemy capability, the phrase I learned many years back goes: ‘Most deadly? Most likely!’ When considering your enemy and their possible course of action, you start by weighing up all of the enemy’s best moves and most likely innovations, literally the worst of the worst case scenario. But once you’ve piled up all the nightmare fuel, you temper it with what the enemy is known to do on a regular basis. That is to say you keep the worst case scenario in mind, but plan for the C+ effort that most people put in on a day to day basis.
This should be the place in the briefing where Gen Bishop (or likely Col Conway, since it’s supposed to be his briefing) should be going into a systematic recitation of what they know about the NPA. Which reserves are they based in? What is their approximate strength? What weapons do they have? What does Intel suggest about their likely targets? Etc… A good part of the briefing should be dedicated simply to listing the weapons stolen from the CFB raids, and what their exact capabilities are, especially given that Jim Riley doesn’t have military experience himself.
This is necessary because the army is going to have to turn the nebulous challenge of native uprising into a realistic problem against which a workable solution can (hopefully) be devised. For that you need hard numbers, physical locations, and the most realistic HUMINT you can get.
Instead we get this crap.
The passage I quoted above is 537 words, and in it Gen Bishop doesn’t once mention the NPA (or any synonym like militants), nor does he mention Molly Grace. Nor make any attempt to differentiate between hostile, unfriendly, neutral or pro-government Indigenous populations. He is literally looking at a map of Canada with all 650+ reserves, bands, and nations plotted on it, and seeing nothing but enemy territory from sea to shining sea. This will go on for the next several pages as Bishop and Riley go back and forth about the state of First Nations affairs and government, during which time the General will only mention Molly Grace’s name once.
Just in case you think I’m over-exaggerating consider the beginning of Col Conway’s briefing:
“Minister, the Native Peoples Army, the NPA, is a formidable force, deeply embedded in the native community, especially in the reserves. It is secretive, secure, and very difficult to penetrate by ordinary intelligence means.4 The force is lightly armed, although after last night’s raids it has added significant capabilities to its arsenal. The NPA, in any case, has for a long time had access to, and possession of, heavy weapons on the reserves in Quebec and eastern Ontario, but the RCMP hasn’t been allowed to confiscate them.”
Note the phrase ‘deeply embedded in the native community, especially in the reserves.’ There’s no qualifier here. There’s no mention of areas of greater or lesser support. The native community. All of it. The reserves. All of them. For all his talk about research, Bland is essentially giving us a Warhammer 40k Ork WAAAGH!!! as a credible example of a native uprising.
Other than the fact that this is tactically stupid to criminal degree, it is racist as hell. The basic assumption that an Indigenous population of nearly one and a half million scattered across the second largest country in the world will all automatically drop everything and march in perfect lockstep at the command of a single leader, without any doubt or objection.
Because apparently they’re all the same.
And when given the chance to strike out against the hated enemy of their race, they won’t hesitate for a second.
Just to use the two main examples we’ve seen thus far in the novel, Bland is saying that the Mohawk nations of Akwesasne will instantly find common ground and perfect harmony with the Cree nations of Northern Quebec. The fact that the Northern Cree are holding the key bargaining chip in the form of the James Bay hydro electric project won’t prompt their leaders to ask for the lion’s share of the stolen weapons, even though the Mohawks (being right next to the population centres) will likely absorb the earliest casualties. The fact that the Mohawk nations make up a larger percent of the alliance and likely generate more funding won’t prompt the Mohawk leaders to demand a greater say in strategic direction. And when the casualties begin to mount? Especially when those casualties prove to be disproportionate?
I’m actually foreshadowing a later part of the novel where Molly Grace will have to deal with a group backsliders and nay-sayers as the uprising gets underway. That scene will make about as much sense as Col Conway’s paragraph quoted above.
We’re going to break down how realistic these vulnerabilities are over the next few posts, but I want to quickly examine the ones that Bishop has outlines in his introduction above. The first is the geographic threat Canada’s native population represent. They are…
…are situated in bands and on reserves that sit astride the east-west lines of communications and transportation on which Canada’s national economy depends. They sit next door to most of the major sources for our resource industries and on the north-south lines that take them…[south]…they also sit astride the oil, natural gas, and hydro lines that fuel southern Canada and a good deal of the United States.
So here’s a map showing the distribution of Canadian First Nations Reserves.
Here is one showing the overall population density of Canada itself.
And here’s one showing our east-west lines of communication:
And here’s one showing the major liquid-fuel pipelines:
Are we seeing a trend here? We’re all living along the same stretch of country.
Do you know who else sits astride all the major lines of communication and power within Canada?
ALL OF CANADA!
And do you know who’s going to suffer and starve if those lines get cut and the economy and the power grid crashes?
ALL OF CANADA!
The thing is our country may be huge, but the nation of Canada is actually pretty small. As a result our population centres cluster around yes, the east-west routes of communication and the north-south routes for the energy grid. This weird notion that something there’s a linchpin to the entire country which the First Nation’s people have unique access to is bewildering to say the least. Yes, there are a number of key features and vital points with reserves right next to them. They’re sharing that space with a similar to greater number of ‘white’ communities who have equal access.
Cutting off and isolating a region of the country is-at least in the short term-potentially doable (although it would take a lot more than blowing up the rail lines and blockading the trans-Canada highway). But this will leave everyone without food, fuel and electricity. Neither the Indigenous nor the ‘white’ population are going to be getting any help, but only one of these two populations is going to find itself the target of government and security forces, as well as mob violence.
Also, this may seem like a small, pedantic point. But the reason so many reserves are sit next door to most of the major sources for our resource industries (like say, oilfields) is because they originally sat on top of those resources, and then got moved over by the government when we decided we wanted what was under the ground. I know it seems a bit petty to point these things out, but it’s kind of a key notion in Indigenous affairs.
Self-inflicted wounds. Keep that phrase fresh in your minds. We’ll be revisiting it a few more times before Bishop & Co are finished.
Now to a certain extent, what Bishop is saying about sabotaging oil pipelines and compressor stations is true, although he’s seriously out when it comes to quantities involved.
I’m not going to pretend I know exactly how much would be needed to permanently wreck a compressor station, but I’m thinking Gen Bishop’s “A few kilos of explosives, a mere fraction of what was stolen in the raids this week, would put them all out of action” is off by an order of magnitude. A mere fraction would be what you’d need to wreck one station. To wreck more, you’re going to need more. And to keep wrecking things? Day after day, week after week in a prolonged guerrilla campaign? That’s a lot more than you’re going to be humping out of Petawawa on you back.5
Also, while there’s no way for Gen Bishop to know about this yet, a lot of those explosives are already committed to Will Boucanier’s defence of Highway 109. But then, the army should have been fixated on certain key heavy weapons from the start.
In a way, Bland is being more honest than even he likely realizes when he has Bishop say “think in terms of vulnerabilities, not threats.” There will never be a serious examination of what the NPA actually represents, because the NPA is literally the native community. They’re not a movement within a diverse collection of communities stretched across a vast country, but one single-minded seething mass of savagery. Bishop doesn’t want Riley to worry about what’s out there, he wants Riley (and the reader, by extension) to see weaknesses, and then assume that for every weakness, there is an enemy that will exploit it.
By definition if you’re afraid, then that means there’s an enemy. This is Bland’s world.
1 It’s an interesting note that Jim Riley is the MP for Winnipeg South, which opens up the question of how much did the previous Conservative government lose? How far west do we have to go before we leave the Double-PC strongholds behind?
2 Since when is General Bishop an expert on Indigenous Affairs? By this time he should have received several briefings from his staff, but if his recent military career is anything to go by, his central focus should have been on East Sub-Saharan Africa and the politics therein. That’s the place he made his name, and where Canada is currently sending troops. A good general should be able to change gears quickly in order to adapt to changing situations, but there’s a big difference between changing gears and becoming a subject matter expert.
3 Just something that needs to be pointed out here: military ranks in Uprising (such as General) are always capitalized whereas civilian ranks (such as Minister) are frequently lower-case.
4 We’ve already discussed here how Bland is flat out wrong about the level of security the NPA has at Akwesasne, but there’s also the question of how Col Conway knows the NPA are secure if the intelligence community has failed to penetrate their organization. This isn’t just me being snarky. There’s a real danger of falling into the trap of assuming an absence of evidence equals proof: “The Illuminati is running everything! How else could they make sure there’s no evidence to be found?”
5 True, the Halifax raiders brought trucks with them, but they were apparently there to steal a cross section of weapons too. Now maybe all the other raids involved vehicles in which case the total amount of C4 could be pretty significant. But that would make Alex Gabriel look like even more of an under-achiever.