***Apologies in advance for the delays in posting. I have been dealing with a combination of work and illness which has made the last week exhausting.***
Oh boy…it’s another briefing!
A frustrating reality about Bland’s work is that he’s going to tell most of the story from the perspective of various headquarters, and he’s going to do it in the form of briefing after briefing after tedious briefing. Not only will this be the only way we get most of the action in this novel, it’s also our main source for background and world building details.
In theory, this could be a decent literary device. Classic films like ‘Failsafe’ and ‘Dr Strangelove’ manage to get some serious mileage out of headquarter scenes. Dropping hints here and there could be a great way to build tension, or spring a twist on the reader when the plan doesn’t survive first contact.
For this to work, however, you need consistency throughout your plot line.
Reading this next passage, I get the distinct impression that Bland wrote this chapter over a period of days, if not weeks, and in the process he forgot that the elapsed time in terms of the story itself is barely a few hours.
I’m not joking here: Our back and forth between the ITAC and Stevenson’s HQ began at 1410 hrs this same day, and Gen Lepine’s musings at CANCOM started at 1720. It was 1815 when the Council meeting began and Molly had to fight her challengers. By this point, it’s doubtful that we’ve hit 1900 hrs. For all intents and purposes, every that’s happened over the last twelve posts has basically been simultaneous. Keep that in mind as Bill Whitefish launches into his latest presentation.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Bill said after a minute, “real leaders of the people, let me bring you up to date.” Molly dragged a chair noisily up to the table and dropped her glasses on her notebook.
“Yeah,” said a voice from the table. “What’s whitey up to?”
Molly asked calmly, “Any movement in the army?”
Bill flipped open his notebook and scanned through his carefully sorted notes. “Yes. They think something’s up. There’s a great deal of planning and pre-deployment underway, almost all aimed at Quebec. Our people in NDHQ report that the headquarters is on a 24/7 emergency manning posture, although there seems to be a lot of confusion in the headquarters about what that means. The place isn’t really organized for war or operations. Frankly, it’s not really organized at all. But the CDS has told CANCOM to go to short notice to move and has 5 Brigade in Valcartier ready to move into Montreal as early as tomorrow if necessary, and you can bet your bottom dollar that 5 Brigade is organized.” He turned a page.
“Meanwhile, the Special Service Regiment in Trenton is assembling – leaves cancelled and the unit is confined to the base, and the base is locked down. Their air transportation squadrons are preparing too, though the aircraft commanders are struggling to get enough aircraft serviceable to deploy in any useful strength. Clearly, the paras are getting ready to go somewhere and it looks like an airborne operation. But we don’t know where they might go; could be James Bay or they might simply fly into Montreal. It will take some time for us to get either confirmation or details, so we’ll watch them as best we can.
So…it’s looking as though Gen Lepine went and put people on alert after all…?
I got kind of thrown off by the 30+ pages between this scene and the last one where we saw Gen Rene Lepine agonizing over what to do at CANCOM, but I just went back to look at the book and this is not making a lot of sense. At 1720, Gen Lepine didn’t seem to have fully accepted the notion of a general uprising, only to be won over by a certain Lt Col who likes to war game domestic terrorism. Okay fine, he seemed to have a bit more resolve once he’d listened to this visionary officer.
So in less than an hour, CANCOM sent out an alert for the 5 Brigade and the Special Service Regiment to stand up and prepare to deploy…and that information got forwarded it to the Complex at Akwesasne in time for Bill Whitefish to compile the report for this Council meeting?
That’s…I can’t begin to explain how improbable this is for a timeline. When we saw CANCOM, they didn’t look as though they’d decided on a plan yet. An hour later, we got what looks like a preliminary set of orders. Okay fine, it’s three days after the Raid that started this thing, so it’s pretty late to be sending a heads up, but whatever. What blows my mind is how Bland seems to think that this information is getting to the NPA:
[Skipping ahead a couple of pages]
Alain Selkirk butted in. “How do we know all this? How do we know what was said in cabinet?”
[Molly speaking] “…We have sources in Ottawa, you know that, a lot in the military including people who handle briefing papers. […] We also have people on the Privy Council Office translation staff. Bill got this report from someone who was right in the cabinet room during this discussion.”
They got people on staff who are feeding them information. They didn’t hack the DWAN (the CAF internet), which would be their best bet for real time information like this. Someone got the order, relayed it as they were expected to, then found time to slip away to place a call to his/her NPA handler who then compiled a report for Bill Whitefish to read up on before this meeting. All in one hour.
It really speaks to a failure of imagination on Bland’s part, as well as time appreciation.
Okay back to the briefing!:
He turned another page of notes. “CSIS and the RCMP are pretty worried about Quebec. They think ‘radical elements,’ as they call them, will probably try to disrupt traffic and business across Quebec soon, but they see the problem as ‘a civil action demonstration,’ mostly political and mostly in the big cities. However, some of our staff people say a minority in both organizations, junior guys who really know the files, are more worried and have even used ‘rebellion’ in their reports. But the bosses aren’t willing to support these assessments for now – just too ‘politically loaded.’”
Molly scoffed. “Just wait for the inquiry the government will call in a few months to cover up their stupidity and inaction. They’ll blame these same guys for not bringing them the word – they’ll call it ‘an intelligence failure,’ that’s a given.” Around the table there were snorts of derision and approving nods.
“Well,” Bill said, “it’s a kind of intelligence failure, or I suppose, more accurately, a failure of intelligence. Just not by the people who’ll get blamed.”
Now I’m lost again. This comment about CSIS and the RCMP…we just spent several pages in this chapter watching the ITAC (made up of both these agencies) shove their collective head up their own ass! They were actively ignoring the information they did have, speculating wildly about unsupported theories, and then deciding that they had to spend another five days(!) staring at their own navels before they could submit a report! And we still don’t know Maggie the Intense Blonde’s last name!
The last part about an inquiry sort of rings true. Yes, the men on the ground will probably catch wind of what’s happening a lot sooner than their superiors. Although for this to be truly convincing Bland would have to show us some of these lower level police and security experts. All we’ve seen so far are high level headquarters and mid-level think tanks. That’s it. We have to take Bill Whitefish’s word about what the junior leadership and the ground level people are thinking.
On a more depressing note, Bland is right that (in almost any organization) the higher ups will protect themselves by throwing mid-level people under the bus. One only has to look at Abu Grahib Prison or, for a Canadian example, the Somalia Affair. In both cases, despite leadership failures all the way through the chain of command, the heaviest prison sentences fell on the lowest ranking people involved.
So yeah, it’s not too improbable that the bosses will blame their subordinates for not preventing their mistakes. Which kind of makes me wonder why Bland has chosen to make his CF protagonists the Chief of Defence Staff and the Commander of the Army.
“Yeah, okay. What’s happening in the West?” Molly’s tone returned the meeting to a more serious frame of mind.
“Much as we had planned,” Bill replied. “Our operations – the assembly of forces and so on – are proceeding quietly under various covers. Stevenson reports that his forces are ready, weapons and supplies stockpiled in safe houses, leaders have been briefed in detail and confined to safe collocations. It’s the same in the rest of the areas. Canadian Forces bases have gone on alert, but the guards and so on are low quality – the combat units are mostly deployed or getting ready to deploy. The only exception is the 3rd Patricias in Edmonton.
“It looks like they’re being held for operations in the West. It seems the CDS and some of his senior officers agree that something more menacing that a political disturbance in Quebec might be happening. He’s getting some support from CSIS and the RCMP, but they’re fighting each other, the usual turf wars…
…Bill resumed. “At today’s cabinet meeting, the PM flatly refused to acknowledge any problem in the West. At which point his kiss-ass chief of staff, Eddie Geldt, jumped in and suggested noise in the West was a ruse to keep the army out of Quebec.” Again chuckles ran around the table.
Stupid Quebeckers! Thinking they’re important just because they’re a central part of the national economy and have roughly 24% of our total population! Except (I guess) for the Van Doos. They’re cool. The rest of them suck, though.
“In any case,” Bill continued, “the PM refused to allow any overt actions in the West. He warned the RCMP to stay a safe distance from native assemblies so as not to provoke the people. The meeting broke up with some very hard feelings around the table. Finally, while our sources inside the Quebec government are limited, the premier is said to be in a panic and may call for federal troops at any time.”
Bill paused. But Molly sat silent, head down, eyes closed. The chiefs waited for several long, quiet minutes. Suddenly she sat up, alert, seeming refreshed and sure. “Our so-caled native leaders in Ottawa are unwittingly helping the cause by reassuring the government that they are in control of the people and nothing is going to disrupt the country. And the government and the media are so conditioned to this fable that they’re reporting as usual what these fools are saying rather than the facts in front of them. Fine. But this charade won’t last past the first real trouble in Quebec. We have to move fast, before these weasels see what’s happening and try to change side and usurp the leadership of the people’s movement away from you chiefs at this table – our real leaders.”
Reaching for her notebook, Molly started reading off the operational plans and put them into operation. The chiefs, nodding, admiring, didn’t even notice that somewhere along the way she’d somehow skipped the bit where they were asked to say yay or nay.
None of the chiefs (even Chief Scottish Name himself) realizing that they never had the chance to cast a vote on the latest escalation of force. Huh. It’s almost like Bland wants to present these lazy, ignorant Indians as bad negotiators or something…
“I want the Mohawk radicals at Kahnawake and others in Quebec ready to move into the streets in overwhelming numbers by 0600 hours Friday morning. They’re to shut down Montreal centre and all routes through the city, north and south, right away; occupy parts of Montreal and Quebec City permanently; and Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivieres, and Hull for as long as they can. Blockade streets, close businesses, stop car and foot traffic, but nothing more, no spontaneous, overt hostilities, no provocations, no gratuitous violence, and no unnecessary killing of civilians. The police and the army are another matter.”
So, spoiler alert but when the Mohawks blockade downtown Montreal, it’s not going to be a peaceful occupation. There will be overt and very provocative gratuitous violence directed at civilians and police alike. This won’t be portrayed as a failure of the mission.
We’ll get into it more when the attacks begin, but it’s worth pointing out here (since Bland will have forgotten by then) that blocking the routes into Montreal at 0600 will make it impossible for thousands of commuters living in the suburbs to enter the city. In theory, this is doable, since Kahnawake and Kanasetake are each located just outside the city (to the south east, and to the west respectively) and would be in a position to block several roads easily enough. However, this would mean that all the stranded (and increasingly angry) people would be trapped outside the city, right next to the Kahnawake and Kanasetake reserves.
As we saw during our look at the Oka Crisis, the Quebec population didn’t take long to become belligerent and then violent. So the plan is to block people from entering so they can have a riot in close proximity to the reserves while the warriors have all be sent away into the city? Okay then.
Whitefish and the others scribbled to keep up with Molly’s fire-hose flow of directions.
“The special teams,” she continued, her voice quivering slightly as her excitement grew, “are to conduct demonstration attacks in the cities to show the government we’re serious. As many major police stations as possible will be harassed and isolated. When the army moves out of Valcartier, I was several demonstration roadside bombs exploded – ahead of the troops. Just demolishing the roads; we want to avoid large casualties that would turn the rest of Canada against us – but we can’t be pussyfooting around either. We’ll move on James Bay at first light on Friday before the army gets in there. I’ll speak directly with our top guy there as soon as we’re finished here.
So Molly’s got an IED team. Okay. That will definitely be dramatic. I’m not sure that it’s going to have much of an effect in bottling the Van Doos up in Valcartier, but…
Okay first off, casually employing explosives pretty much means they’ve given up on the notion of limiting civilian casualties. Simply put, the danger radius for an IED is something that’s not easy to predict. You might have a general idea of the explosion’s radius, but there’s no way to fully predict how shrapnel and debris is going to fly. And if the triggering of the device is going to be dependent on when the army moves, they have no way to predict who else might be close by when it explodes.
I’m also surprised that Bland thinks this would actually stop the troops from deploying. He’s been coy about exactly how the Afghan War came to an end for Canada, but it’s a safe bet that the forces making up 5th Brigade Group contain a huge number of Afghan veterans. Which means that, while they might get slowed down, IEDs are definitely not going to stop them. Even worse (from the NPA perspective at least), that IED is going to remove any doubt in the minds of those soldiers as to what they’re up against. Whatever orders they may have received from the politically correct government won’t matter after this.
Nothing says ‘This is a fight to the death’ like twenty kilos of C4 that could have gone off under your LAV.
“Bill, I want the intelligence staff to drop all their other work and get answers to these three question: Are any CF units in the West moving, and if so, to where? Are we holding units deployed in Quebec in Quebec, and if not, what additional pressures should we exert to hold them there? Based on these assessments, when should we launch the main effort in the West? Keep on top of these questions and update the info continually and let me know of any significant shifts in any area.” Molly Grace paused abruptly. “Tomorrow,” she declared, “is history right now.”
And we wrap up our contentious meeting with this weird bit of inconsistency within this section itself. Just a few paragraphs earlier we had the NPA operating the most incredible real-time intelligence gathering operation in history. Now suddenly they have to drop everything and focus on answering really basic questions like where the forces in the West are going to be deployed?
I’m guessing this is Bland’s way of showing that the civilian government is ineffective and weak while the army is just so cool you guys! But this ignores the fact that the CDS would have to brief the government about any major moves they make, so the lax security in the Privy Council’s Office would give them answers to all these question with only a short delay. Unless the CDS starts actively concealing stuff from the Prime Minister…
Spoiler alert: As the novel continues, that exactly what General Bishop will do. And it won’t be out of any concern for the country’s security.
As the meeting wraps up, Molly Grace pulls Bill Whitefish to one side in the hall:
In the hallway after they left [the] room, Molly whispered to Bill, “Put someone on Selkirk. He can’t be trusted.”
Betrayal and backstabbing is in the air!
Rather than lay some ground work for more drama down the road, this sinister order is going to set the scene for a protracted and mostly out of place discussion about the history of Metis rebel leader Louis Riel. I’ve been putting it off for a while, mainly because it’s a fairly profound topic that’s going to be a bit of a segue from the story. But now it’s time to dive into the story of this controversial figure, and how Bland mangles his story for this novel.
Stay tuned, the next couple of posts are going to be dense.
***Featured image from Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Columbia Pictures, 1964).***
 Sorry to quote in such depth, but this is going to be one of the few large-scale world building moments in the novel, so we’re going to have to pick this apart in detail.
 Is anyone getting a real sense of sarcasm from Bill and Molly? Also, I don’t recall Molly Grace being described as having glasses before now. Am I wrong?
 Quick background: 5 Brigade is the Quebec area formation build around the famous French Canadian infantry regiment, the R22ieme (the Van Doos). Given that Bland doesn’t seem to have a lot of respect for French Canada, I’m pleasantly surprised to see that he would accord them this basic level of praise.
 A while back, there was a pretty serious problem with people plugging their smart phones into DWAN computers’ USB ports to charge them. Although the DWAN’s got some pretty formidable security, breeching it is not impossible, nor would it take too many pages to explain convincingly.
 In all fairness, they probably would have charged MCpl Matchee as well, if he hadn’t hung himself.
 The Warriors from Kahnawake actually did block the Mercier bridge during the Oka Crisis, turning it into a flashpoint for mob violence from the Quebec side.
 It also needs to be said, but that’s a serious waste of material. Then again, from the way the NPA hands out C4, it’s pretty clear Bland thinks it’s an unlimited resource.
 No, that isn’t a transcription error. I double checked it myself. It’s right there in the novel and apparently it’s how Bland thinks Molly will inspire her cohorts in their upcoming war.