Back in the ITAC, Quadra thinks he has both sides of the equation covered: One of his people thinks Stevenson is just so awesome that any place where he is seen must be the NPA’s main effort (and therefore they can ignore all that other stuff happening at the other end of the country).  The other has doubts that anything organized is going on.  Surely the answer must lie somewhere at the middle, so all that would be necessary is to find the middle ground between them…

…Then suddenly in comes another un-ranked officer named Walter Boudria with another possibility: Maybe Maggie the Intense Blonde is right but also maybe they’re planning something even bigger!

Eliot Quadra looked around the table.  “Okay, we have two different concepts.  Any others?”

Walter Boudria joined the conversation.  “Eliot, I’d like to go back to the question of the aim.  Let me throw some kind of random thoughts on the table.  I’m assuming a bold operation.  We have all the tapes of Molly Grace’s public speeches and the secret electronic intercepts as well, and I don’t see any compromise in any of them.  She’s not in this to win some treaty benefits.  I think she wants the whole cake.  So how about this: the Movement is going to try to grab control of all the ungoverned spaces in the West and hold them for negotiations about aboriginal sovereignty over the West.  In which case, Maggie’s right: the Quebec thing, at least south of James Bay, is a decoy.  And, by the way, I’m convinced they’re going to move soon.”

The assessment team looked to their boss, but Quadra deflected the group-think invitation and refused to endorse or reject Walter’s ideas.  Instead, he continued evenly, “Okay Walter, tell us how they’d carry out this bold plan of yours.”

“Well, the speculation factor expands with imagination, but I assume that they will use their main advantage, which is people.  In other words, they’ll assemble large groups of natives across the North, move south suddenly, and simply overwhelm the local security forces, then sit on the ground until we quit or negotiate.  We don’t have the resources to handle such an eventuality and Stevenson knows that.  So I bet on his playing to his advantage.  Besides, it’s simple, and he can’t manage anything but a simple strategy with the forces he has available.”

Boudria’s basically on the money, but I don’t see how he came to this conclusion based on the data available.  These secret electronic intercepts, have they been shared with the other specialists at the table?  Because they seem to suggest information that runs completely counter to what they know now.

The CFB raids all happened at bases in central and eastern Canada[1], Molly Grace posed in front of a Mohawk Warriors’ Flag for her manifesto, and Will Boucanier has been acting in obviously suspicious at a hydro-electric dam in norther Quebec.  Now the Railway Massacre did happen in southern Manitoba, and if Bland had actually followed up on this piece of world building then the sightings of Sam Stevenson and Alex Gabriel in Winnipeg might have been more sinister.  Instead, they can’t even seem to conclusively link the two men to the Movement in the first place.

This is a weird way to approach this kind of problem solving.  All enemy activity seems to be in this one region, so clearly the enemy must be planning something bigger somewhere else!  I’m not saying this sort of thing doesn’t happen.  Being so in love with a pet theory that you’ll ignore all evidence to the contrary and stretch any vaguely supporting fact until it is all but unrecognizable is something that can happen in real life.  Even to professionals.

Or…you know…retired professionals.

Usually, this kind of one-track thinking ends up being phase one of a major disaster.  The classic example would be when the Allies built up a phoney army group around General Patton in order to trick the Nazis into thinking that the D-Day landings would happen in the Pas de Calais instead of Normandy.

It’s also interesting that the ITAC ‘experts’ also seem to think that Stevenson’s brilliant idea of massing his warriors in isolated reserves and driving openly down isolated highways for hours on end is totally totally the work of a military genius.  Boudria explains that the plan must be simple, and I suppose the open road deployment would certainly qualify.   Before he can continue Mike Liu cuts in:

Mike broke in.  “Sure, nice plot for fiction, but where’s the evidence?  We would’ve seen some indication of this.  Maybe not the overt preparation for an assault, but other things, changes in the routine in the community, things that are hard to hide.  There simply aren’t any such indicatiors-no training camps, no rallies, no hostile movements, nobody of interest disappearing and then suddenly popping up in the community again.  Things look normal.”

Maggie jumped to Walter’s defence. “But that’s the point, Mike.  My assumption-our assumption-is that they’ve been successful in keeping things normal and that means they have to go for something simple.  And for simple to be effective, it has to be big.  If you were Stevenson, what would your plan be? Normal today, uprising tomorrow.  We won’t see anything until we see the whole thing blow up in our faces.”

That actually IS a good point.  The First Nations population has been quiet all year (except for those rallies in the summer of protest, and the Railway Massacre and all that, but still…), and nobody’s been disappearing and popping up unexpectedly (except for that traitor officer who may have raided Petawawa and all, but still…) and there’s been no rallies or hostile movements (except for the dozens of rallies that we’ll later learn Molly Grace has been hosting for the last four year) but still…

Keeping things normal?  Where they are right now, normal just went and shit itself.

I’m kind of being sarcastic, but at the same time not really.  Bland seems to have totally forgotten the setup for his own novel.  I suspect the real problem here is bad editing and world building.  Bland threw in some flavour text to describe Aboriginal protestors (and grind an axe or two about staged violence) then carried on with his original story line, not bothering to think about the consequences of his background.  In reality, his spooks here in ITAC should be labouring under a cloud of fear, with the names of six dead protestors and two cops facing trial at the backs of their minds.  The death of poor Fred McTavish should be gripping their minds and filling them with paranoid fantasies of just how far this Native Peoples Army will go.

You might say that I’m harping on minor details, like the film geek who can point out every wrist watch in the movie Spartacus.  But keep in mind, this is not some high fantasy about some far away land bearing a superficial resemblance to ours, whose story we can watch as a non-threatening stand in for our own.  This is us.  This is supposed to be the Canada we know and love and it’s supposed to be First Nations people living today, in the real world.

In the real world, people don’t just rise up spontaneously like an Ork WAAAGH!!!  The idea that the call of race will instantly seized the mind of the primitive savage and set him against his white colleagues and companions is one that died a well-deserved death in the 19th Century[2].  In the real world, rebellions build on grievances, which are nurtured (for good or ill) by local leaders and later national ones.  Should these leaders hit a critical mass of support and begin to organize, it’s then we begin to see structure and discipline take hold.

I think on some level Bland realizes this which is why he pays lip service to ‘increasing tensions’ in the beginning, but an unwillingness to engage in the legitimacy of First Nations’ grievances has left them by the wayside.  Now a hundred pages in, his characters are fumbling around looking for signs that should be all around them, but have been forgotten by their own author.

Elena Morales joined the sceptics.  “But then what’s the rest of his plan?  Why would the government negotiate, even if large numbers of natives moved south and sat around Winnipeg and Regina?  We could wait them out.  It’s true that Stevenson could get a pretty large number of angry people to do something simple on a large scale, but the other great weakness of amateurs, besides inability to coordinate things, is they don’t stick it out when things get tough.

“We’re nearly into autumn and you know there’s a good chance most of the region will be snowed in by Halloween.  Besides, who’s going to feed these people while they sit there for months, even if they don’t get bored and wander off?  We agree on one thing: Stevenson can’t manage complicated logistics.  So the government stalls until the natives go home, or we reassemble a strong military presence in the West.  And Stevenson, or whoever’s really in charge, must be able to see that far ahead too.  So what have they got, or what do they think they’ve got, to make us give in?

Uh…how about more than half a million hostages trapped in Winnipeg who are going to start starving pretty quickly if they can’t import food?  How about millions of Canadians on either side of Winnipeg who are going to have vital trade and commerce disrupted, possibly leading to starvation and shortages elsewhere in Canada?  How about billions of dollars in economic losses since having your country essentially cut in half doesn’t usually attract investment?

Civilians in Gorazde flee from the first Serbian attacks.  Many would be shot down by snipers as they scrambled to cross the Drina river into the part of the town still under Bosnian control.

The featured image for this post, along with the one above, is from Joe Sacco’s 2001 graphic novel ‘Safe Area Gorazde.’  During the dissolution of Yugoslavia the town of Gorazde (along with Zepa, and Srebrenica) was supposed to be a protected enclave for Bosnian Muslims against the Serb nationalists who had surrounded them.  Despite UN assurances of safety, Zepa and Srebrenica would be captured (the latter being the scene of one of the worst massacres of the conflict) and Gorazde would hold out only by the slimmest of margins[3].

Now the events described in the novel took place in the early 90s.  Furthermore, the Canadian contingent would actually take over the security of Gorazde in the late 90s after the Dayton Peace Accords.  I know people who served there.  These are not secret events of a little-known conflict.

What does Bland actually think will happen when militant ethno-nationalists surround a city populated by their enemy?  He seems to think that it will be a repetition of Oka or Caledonia, with a prolonged standoff in which nobody gets hurt.  The more likely outcome would be Ipperwash or the SQ raid that precipitated Oka.  Except with half a million people trapped inside the city, the hasty, ill-conceived police action resulting in unnecessary death would be followed up by better-planned ones that would only raise the death toll.

The Oka crisis took place largely on Mohawk or contested land.  While Caledonia was limited in size and scope.  Bland thinks a city of 700,000 can be besieged without any loss of life, or any of the hatred and revenge that would inevitably follow.

So yeah, this is going to be a thing in the novel.  It’s not a huge spoiler to say that Will Boucanier will capture the Robert Bourassa Dam and promptly shut off the power for much of easter Canada[4].  What is going to spoiler (sorry everybody) is that nobody’s going to really care.

Yeah, you read that right.  Millions left without power as a Canadian fall and winter looms, but nobody freaks out.

Get used to this, because it’s going to happen a lot before the novel’s finished.  Bland seems to have no concept of what makes a society tick, and therefore what can hurt it and plunge it’s inhabitants into pain, misery and death.  This is our first real example of this.  Bland has established this roomful of people as security experts, and they don’t see the risk in letting an army of First Nations insurgents lay siege to a city?

But we need to think in terms of vulnerabilities, not threats.

It’s not about what could hurt you.  It’s about how weak you feel.  If all the threats are in central/eastern Canada, but the things you fear for are in the west, then you worry about the west.  Just like if you look in the mirror after a month of hitting the gym, your attention is going to be draw to how much weight you have left rather than how much you’ve lost.

Think in terms of vulnerabilities, not threats.  That’s Douglas Bland’s creed here.  Don’t look at an obvious pattern of escalation and extrapolate the enemy’s plan.  Look at how weak you are, how vulnerable, then assume your worst nightmare is the enemy’s only option.

Part 31 here!



[1] Including the death of Fred McTavish out in Halifax.  Never forget Fred McTavish.

[2] Just to head off an obvious objection.  Yes, Thomas King did talk about the call “Where are the warriors?” having the effect of ‘heating his blood.’  Yes he said that.  These feelings occurred not because of these specific magic words but because these words referred to a specific and very real injustice that was happening at that time.  His response to that ‘heating of the blood?’  It was to join a group of amateurs to go travel to the place where that injustice was happening in order to do something about it.  He didn’t just mindlessly bellow his rage to the sky before attacking whitey wherever he could find him.  That’s the difference.

[3] ‘The place where the tank turned around’ is one of the landmarks shown to Joe Sacco when he first arrives at Gorazde as a journalist.  It marked the closest point that the Serb forces came to overrunning the town during the conflict.  The Bosnian defenders at that point, overstretched and low on ammunition, feared that defeat was immanent.  But to their relief the tank, after rolling through their defences, fired several rounds further into the town, then turned around and withdrew.  The spot where it turned became an informal landmark.

[4] And parts of upstate New York and the eastern seaboard, but America’s bizarre response to the Uprising will have to be covered in later instalments.

5 thoughts on “30-Quick! Back to the ITAC!

  1. From a historical POV Bland’s take on the “lack of signs” of an imminent uprising is about as convincing as the standard late 19th/early 20th Century writings on the Indian Mutiny of 1857, where the Indians are supposed to have launched their well planned uprising against colonial rule with little to no warning to the ruling parties.

    The reality of the situation is that there would be countless tells that a war was coming. The grievances would be well known to the authorities and the leaders and main scope of effort would be understood – maybe the level of effort the other party would bring to bear might be a surprise, but not that it was coming.

    The summary of the event is that in 1857, the British were well aware that many of the various Indian Kingdoms were not happy with their colonial masters and that a widescale popular uprising was likely. They were aware of the reasons for it – loss of power and prestige for the local elites, religious issues which were taken to be attempts at forced conversion, and general cultural repression. Like Bland’s Canada, the colonial government is supposed to be taking steps to alleviate concerns (in Bland’s case the payments to the First Nations) and the real villains will use a minor pretext to spark the uprising that will be put down by the brave forces of the colonial power. The whole story as commonly told is propaganda to minimize the grievances of the oppressed and make the colonial power the aggrieved party.

    As commonly told, it ignores differences between different factions of the oppressed (in the actual Mutiny many of the former states remained loyal, including the Sikhs who had only been conquered less than 10 years before), and tended to emphasize Indian atrocities, while minimizing British ones.

    Many of the 19th/early 20th tellings of the US Indian Wars are the same.

    It’s like Bland has never read a critical history of colonial warfare – “Flashman and the Great Game” is better researched and more nuanced view of colonial warfare and native uprisings than this. And that novel is supposed to be the written perspective of a bigoted 19th century British officer!


    1. And the weird thing is, these sections could have actually worked if the intent was to show the ITAC as being clueless or out of touch. This could have been a classic case of analyzing a problem to death instead of taking some sort of action based on what you know at the time. It’s literally the first dream in Duffer’s Drift where the young Lt lounges around doing nothing while the Boers sneak up and slaughter his camp. And Bland doesn’t seem to notice.


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