VICTORIA, British Columbia — The Canadian government has put the possibility of its military joining the US ballistic missile defense program back on the agenda, a little more than a decade after it rejected taking part in the same ground-based continental system.
Canada could contribute sites for interceptors or radars for the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system, according to Canadian military officers.
The decision about whether Canada will join the system will be outlined in the new defense review the government is undertaking. That review is to be released in early 2017.
Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has asked for feedback from the public and analysts about whether Canada should join the US system. In outlining the debate that should be undertaken during the review, the ruling Liberal Party government noted in material released to the public that the ballistic missile threat to North America is growing as more nations acquire such technology.
"Would a shift in policy in this area enhance Canadian national security and offer an avenue for greater continental co-operation?" it asked the public. "Or are there more effective areas in which to invest to better protect the North American continent?"
In 2005, then-Prime Minister Paul Martin of the Liberal Party declined to take part in the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system, despite being lobbied directly by US President George W. Bush. At the time Canada reaffirmed its support for the US as a military ally but noted it did not want to focus on missile defense.
The material for the new defense review noted that many of Canada's allies are working together on ballistic missile defense and questioned whether it was time to revisit the decision.
As one of its advisers on the ongoing defense review, the government appointed former Liberal defense minister Bill Graham who has voiced his support for joining the US system.
But the revival of interest in ballistic missile defense sparked heated debate in the House of Commons on Monday. Randall Garrison, the defense critic of the opposition party, the New Democratic Party of Canada, highlighted the failure of past US programs.
Alexandre Boulerice, a member of Parliament also of the NDP, raised the issue of the US "Star Wars" program from the 1980s. "Can't the prime minister just watch the movie, instead of getting us into this useless thing that will cost us billions?" he asked.
Sajjan, the defense minister, said the government wants to make sure that Canada and North America are well defended from a variety of threats.
"We want to make sure that the defense review is open and wide," he said. "By not opening up the discussion on ballistic missile defense, allowing Canadians to have a say in this, it would not be an open defense review."
In June 2014 the Canadian Senate's Committee on National Security and Defence issued a report that called for Canada to contribute to US ballistic missile defense efforts, either directly or indirectly. "The committee is unanimous in recommending that the Government of Canada enter into an agreement with the United States to participate as a partner in ballistic missile defence," noted the 33-page report, "Canada and Ballistic Missile Defence: Responding to the Evolving Threat."
The Conservative Party government in power at the time did not move forward on that recommendation, which was supported by both Conservative and Liberal Party senators.
David Pugliese has been Defense News' Canada correspondent since 1989. He has covered conflicts in Afghanistan, the former Yugoslavia and Africa. In 2020, he won the Spencer Moore Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom. He is the author of two books on special operations forces.