It’s another briefing everybody!  About time, too.  I was starting to lose track of what was happening with all this action!  Col Dobson’s is just so ready to deliver this briefing, you would not believe how ready he is!  But as we saw in the previous section, the nefarious Jack Hemp actually wanted to skip over the briefing and go straight for a plan.  Luckily, Jim Riley, Minister for National Defence, is ready to step in.  Here’s where we left off last week:

Finally Riley spoke up.  “Prime minister, we could review the latest intelligence first.  It’ll take about ten minutes and then we’ll know where we are and where we might go.”  Hemp hesitated and looked to Geldt, but Riley pressed his point.  “It might be useful, prime minister.  You really should hear this.”

Hemp shrugged, and without waiting the CDS motioned Ian Dobson to the head of the table where, without notes, the colonel began the briefing.

We know that Col Dobson is a baddass since he’s working without notes!

“Prime minister, as of six o’clock this morning” – Dobson was in civvy-speak, no twenty-four-hour clocks⁠1 and no acronyms – “the situation is as follows: the leaders of the so-called Native People’s Council have issued a declaration of rebellion against the federal government, and against Quebec in particular.  I believe you saw the tape from the Native People’s Television Network where Molly Grace, the apparent head of the Council, made certain declarations?

So now it’s Native People’s Television instead of First Nations’ Television Network.  Okay.

It hasn’t been made clear yet how the NPA is getting their ‘tapes’ to the network for broadcast.  Are they actually delivering physical tapes to a TV network? Do they have an intermediary who’s passing them on?  I’m only asking because it would make sense at this point (given when we’re about to learn) to arrest Molly Grace and her Council as quickly as possible, so I would expect the RCMP to be staking out the network building in anticipation of more messages.

“Within a few hours after her declarations, several disturbances took place in and near Montreal and Quebec City.  They were aimed mostly at blocking traffic and commuters at bridges and major highways, and they succeeded.  Traffic is now at a standstill in most of Montreal, Quebec City and on the highways between the cities.  The SQ has put pickets – sorry, I should say guards – at the various sites, but they refuse to try to break up the demonstrations because they reported natives in masks, carrying weapons, at every site.  Without robust rules of engagement and military backup, they are, well, formally they’re advising caution but essentially they’re refusing to risk any kind of escalation.”

I’m a bit lost by that term ‘Robust rules of engagement.’  RoEs are essentially a set of guidelines for soldiers that lay out the circumstances under which a soldier may employ force outside of circumstances in which they were explicitly covered by orders.

For example, a soldier in Afghanistan might be told that in six hours their platoon will move into a nearby village, assault a particular compound, and either detain or kill anyone they find there.  That’s simple and straightforward.  It’s possible to given specific orders to cover all eventualities for an operation like this.  Move to a given location and engage a known enemy.

In the meantime, however, that soldier must be able to make minute by minute judgements regarding say, civilians from that village whom they may encounter.  Is the soldier allowed to stop and question these civilians?  To search them for weapons?  What if that civilian appears suspicious?  What if the soldier suspects that the civilian in question is from the compound they will soon assault?  What constitutes reasonable suspicion?

This is what rules of engagement are:  Broad and (hopefully) detailed guidelines that can be applied to random events which can’t be specifically anticipated.

What Bland seems to be implying is that the SQ (and the City police forces) are unwilling to risk a confrontation with the Mohawks without RoEs that will explicitly permit them to use force.  I think the idea’s supposed to be that political correctness has left the real cops® so uncertain of themselves that they will be afraid to get in and kick ass like they’re supposed to.  This would be news to the real-life police forces across Canada, I think.  Most modern police forces already have very clear guidelines for responding to such things as ‘angry person(people) with guns in public spaces.’  They might not go charging in right off the bat, but basics like contain, isolate and negotiate should be pretty straightforward.

There’s going to be more hints of this later on, but Bland seems to have a deep seated prejudice against Quebec police as part of his Regimental chauvinism.  Among other things there will be the implication that the failure of the SQ raid on the Pines that set off the Oka Crisis was the result of SQ cowardice rather than a lack of planning and reconnaissance.  Given that his career started in RCR, such a bias isn’t entirely unexpected.  According to Wineguard’s history of Oka, the crisis bred a considerable degree of animosity between the police and the military, especially the English-speaking RCR.

A grudge, however, is not a reality.  Uprising is supposed to be a novel based on reality, carefully researched and vetted.  The reality is that Quebec police (along with Canadian police in general) haven’t always had a particularly stellar relationship with the First Nations, and coming off of ‘the Summer of Rage’ which Bland describes at the beginning of the novel, tensions would be especially high.

Then there’s the people of Quebec themselves.

Whiskey Trench-Mullet
As we learned from our review of the film ‘The Warriors,’ this combination of hair and facial expression only means trouble.

This douchebag is one of hundreds of similar Québecois individuals who gathered into angry mobs throughout the summer of the Oka Crisis to demonstrate, threaten, and even attack people they saw as threatening their ‘rights’ (defined only in the most nebulous terms).  On 28 August they gathered at a particular highway overpass near the Seagram’s distillery known to the locals as the Whisky Trench.  Word had gotten out that a group of Mohawk civilians would be fleeing from Kahnawake that day to escape the escalating standoff, and these people were determined to take full advantage of this opportunity.

The events that followed would be caught on film (and later detailed in Alanis Obomsawin’s documentaries) the SQ seemed either unable or else unwilling to act while the crowd pelted the fleeing cars with rocks, damaging several vehicles and eventually killing an elderly Mohawk man[3].  The fact that he would be the only fatality of the day seems largely to be a matter of luck, since dozens of vehicles were attacked and hundreds of rocks were thrown.

Whiskey Trench
This shot is taken over the shoulder of an SQ officer (foreground right) and shows a police car parked in the middle of the attack.

Had any of the vehicles been immobilized (say, by two of them colliding in the confusion) it’s not clear that the crowd would have restrained themselves from injuring or killing the occupants, or that the police would have tried to stop them.

Hemp stirred in his chair, picked up a pencil, and began doodling on his notepad.  Dobson paused briefly in case anyone had questions, then continued.  “Outside this Montreal-Quebec City core area, we have reports of large gatherings of native people at Oka, Akwesasne, and Kahnawake.  So far, they’re basically just milling about, but there are indications that they may be preparing to move to support the barricades.  This secondary movement isn’t coordinated on a large scale, but it’s not entirely spontaneous either.  Intelligence reports indicate that several groups of armed natives from the ‘warriors’ society’ are travelling from other parts of Eastern Canada and the United States to support the uprising.  You may recall, prime minister, that the same thing happened at the railway blockages at Deseronto in the spring of 2007 and summer of 2008, and on a larger scale at Caledonia when the situation turned ugly there later that year.”

I’d be curious to know where these ‘intelligence reports’ were coming from, given that we’ve already seen the intelligence community in action.  It’s especially interesting since the reports Col Dobson is describing seem to be originating from inside the Reserves.  Too bad nobody bothers to ask him about his sources.

Geldt interrupted sharply.  “There’s no uprising, colonel.  We’re not using that word.”  Hemp nodded in agreement, but Bishop, regarding Geldt with open contempt, snapped, “Carry on, Colonel Dobson.”

Ian Dobson shifted focus.  “We’ve also detected what we think may be hostile activities in the James Bay-Radisson area.  The information is fragmented at the moment, but local police have noted several non-residents in the area, including a former Canadian Forces warrant officer who has been seen with native leaders suspected of subversive leanings.  Other indications of threats in the province are being analyzed at the moment.”

This passage seems to indicate that maybe Bob Ignace’s reports may have reached the federal level just in time for Jack Hemp to ignore them.  Going off of what’s in the text itself, I have to believe otherwise.  For one thing, non-residents in the area are apparently common, given Bland’s own description of crowds of tourists wandering through the Robert Bourassa Dam.

More crucially, if Ignace’s reports had gotten through to the CDS’s headquarters, then so would his reports of Will Boucanier’s recce of the highway leading to Radisson, including a certain beaver dam which will become significant later on.[4]  These reports won’t be forwarded to the Van Doos Battle Group that eventually has to travel the highway, suggesting old Bob Ignace’s hateful rantings are still going unheeded.

Hemp was suddenly fully alert.  “Wait  a minute.  Are you suggesting that there is a threat to the James Bay facilities?”  He looked around the table at his cabinet colleagues.  “Surely, one pissed-off ex-soldier isn’t going to blow up the great dam.  General, I don’t want anything like this type of alarmist statement reaching the press or the Quebec premier.  Or anyone, in fact.  Honestly, you people…”

Bland seems to think that a cowardly liberal with no military experience would automatically assume that there was no danger and that the big, tough, army guys were over-reacting.

That’s…not my experience.

Most of the people I know who have no military experience usually assume the danger is greater than it actually is.  This is usually because their only exposure to military issues comes from movies, and Hollywood wants dramatic, not realistic.

When it comes to demolitions, I would expect the civilian liberal to assume that Will Boucanier could simply plant a bomb the size of a backpack (with a red digital timer, of course) that could blow the entire dam and that the process would take a matter of seconds for him to accomplish.  In Bishop’s place I would be expecting to have to reassure everyone at the table: “No Prime Minister, it’s not like that in real life.  Demolishing a structure the size of a dam would take hundreds of kilos of C4 and days of preparation.  The real danger is that Boucanier’s going to target something small and vital, like a control room…”

I would also be digging up a Combat Engineer to act as a subject matter expert (SME).  As a follow on to that, I would have this SME liaise with one of Boucanier’s JTF 2 colleagues, an intelligence representative, and someone who’s an expert on the dam to come up with some worst case scenarios for either a raid or attempted takeover situation.  Then again, I’m just a Sergeant, and I know how ignorant I really am.[5]

Mockingjay-Dam Busting
Scenes of the dam assault in the 2014 film The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (Lionsgate Films).  Although not meant to be a gritty, realistic film, the scene actually does get some things right.  With only minutes to act, the rebels haul in crates of explosives to compensate.  Even though much of the explosive power is wasted on empty space and vented through the doors, there’s so much of it that the dam is destroyed anyway.  Speed or efficiency.  Pick one.

Andy Bishop cut him off.  “Prime minister, we can only respond to the information we receive, and prudence must be the watchword until we can confirm the facts.  But the facilities at James Bay are themseleves vulnerable and would be very difficult to rescue if they were suddenly attacked.  The power lines that run from there to the south are even more vulnerable and are extremely difficult to guard.  A few ‘pissed-off’ ex-soldiers, or for that matter just a few angry citizens with some dynamite, certainly could interfere seriously with the power supply.”

Hemp blinked at him.  “So what are you suggesting we do?”

Remember this part.  This is the part where Jack Hemp, Prime Minister of Canada and Gen Bishop’s own boss, has explicitly asked for advice.  As irritating as the man may be he has, in effect, looked to Canada’s top soldier and said: ‘Help me.’

I wonder how Bishop will respond?

***Images from the Oka Crisis taken from ‘Rocks at Whiskey Trench’ a National Film Board documentary by Alanis Obomsawin, and can be viewed on the NFB’s YouTube channel here.***

_________________________

[1] Fun fact!  In Québec they use the twenty-four hour clock in civilian life!  I’ve actually heard civilian friends call it “French Time” when talking about 24-hour time.

[2] I have personally met RCR members, including one who served at Oka and another who wasn’t even born at the time, who have a particular distain for the SQ for the ill-fated raids at Tekakwitha Island and the violence which resulted.  Bitterly referred to as ‘the SQ beer run,’ I would not be surprised if this grudge carries on long after the last Oka veteran retires.

[3] Joe Armstrong, a 71 year old veteran of the Second World War was struck in the chest by a rock.  He would be taken to the hospital shortly afterwards complaining of chest pain, and die of heart failure a day later.

[4] Again, I’m sure the reason for this discrepency is entirely due to bad writing.  However, the implication is that there’s another self-hating racist cop up in Radisson or Chisasibbi, which is depressing to contemplate.

[5] And how awesome would that be as a scenario?  You’re a SOF operator, having to sit down with a group of experts to figure out how your former mentor (who’s now a traitor) would attack a dam.  A scene like that would be dripping with tension.  Too bad we’re stuck here sitting through another briefing.

3 thoughts on “44 – Road Blocks!

  1. Please remember that pretty much EVERY character in this novel is an 80s action movie trope. With Jack Hemp being the “slimy, cowardly politician overly concerned with being PC” amped up to 11.

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