Northern Perspectives Interview

Brig.-Gen. (ret'd) C.D. Young, Manager, Goose Bay Management Office, Department of National Defence


NP: You encountered some problems translating the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) into Inuktitut. What happened?

 Young: The translation was contracted out to a translator. When the document got to Nain, LIA [Labrador Inuit Association] read it and found that it was done in two different sorts of script. Therefore, some of the words didn't translate correctly. The word for "moose" apparently came out as "cow". So they called and said, "We can't distribute this to our people". They suggested that it be retranslated in Nain and proofread by the LIA. That is what's being done now; but it has held up the process, regrettably, for several weeks.

 NP: Would you say that in some ways DND has a bit of a PR problem in the North?

 Young: There is an element in Canadian society that is going to be against anything that DND does, by virtue of the fact that we have "defence"-which they interpret to mean "attack"-as part of our name. If we throw a Christmas party for kids, some will suggest it's so they can grow up healthy so we can kill them. These people have a fair audience and they tend to give the worst possible interpretation of what we do. But I don't know how you get around that. We have in the Goose Bay situation a continual misrepresentation of the facts. You try to correct them, but misinterpretations continue. People read this and believe it. That makes it difficult for us to correct misrepresentations, because we don't want to get into arguments with people in the newspapers.

 NP: One of the criticisms of environmental impact review processes like this one is that the fundamental questions are overlooked when both parties play to the media. How do you react to that suggestion?

 Young: When we develop a new on-line computer system to help us avoid overflying wildlife or hunting parties in our flying area, it's a ho-hum sort of thing. But when 25 Innu have an audience with the Pope, this gets a lot of press. We're not able to compete on that level, nor do we try to. It wouldn't be appropriate for us to spend taxpayers' money in that way.

 NP: What kind of discussions have you had with native groups in northern Labrador?

 Young: There are two groups of Innu. We've had some very useful exchanges with the group in Davis Inlet and their chief, Cajetan Rich. We have briefed him on what we're doing and why we're doing it. We have offered to get together with him at any time and any place of his choosing to discuss problems. We have told him that if he tells us where his people go to hunt and when they go to hunt, we will guarantee that we will not overfly them. He has provided us with locations on a map showing us their hunting area, showing areas where they don't want to be bothered, and we are making arrangements. We have built that into our computer system to avoid them. So I think that with the Davis Inlet people we have the makings of a good relationship, in that Mr. Rich does not want the relationship to be an adversarial one. He wants to cooperate because that's the way he can best serve the needs of his people.

 In Sheshatshit we haven't been as fortunate. The Innu of Sheshatshit have elected to adopt a confrontational approach, and, therefore, we cannot communicate with them. But there is an element in Sheshatshit that would like to be cooperative. They had an election in August, and a candidate who favored co-operation got a third of the vote, meaning that some people in Sheshatshit would presumably prefer to negotiate than to demonstrate.

 NP: What do you think the reason is for the intransigence of that one group?

 Young: I don't know. It would be inappropriate to speculate. The conventional wisdom when I came into the job was that it was a land claims issue. When Mr. McKnight and then Mr. Cadieux went to Sheshatshit, they met with no co-operation. Mr. Cadieux told the leaders that if they wished to negotiate land claims, then he should sit down and talk about it. And he was told that they're not interested. So I don't know whether land claims is the issue or not.

 NP: There is a view that a lot of outside groups-church, peace, environmental-have become involved, and that they may have hijacked the issue. Do you feel that may be the case?

 Young: I don't know to what degree the influence has flowed from the special interest groups to the Innu-or whether it has gone the other way. The Innu have made a point of travelling across the country speaking to various groups, who, in turn, have adopted the Innu viewpoint as their own. When you see a group of native Canadians standing in front of you with tears coming down their faces saying that they're being annihilated, that there's cultural genocide, that they're being overflown 7500 times a year, this is pretty scary stuff. The fact that most of it is inaccurate doesn't come out. I think a lot of people who have adopted the Innu cause do so with the very best of intentions, since the situation as they are led to understand it does sound pretty terrible. I have written some letters to editors to point out some of the misinterpretations, but it doesn't seem to have any effect. One very common misinterpretation is that we are conducting flight testing. This appears repeatedly in newspapers and letters. The word "testing" has a connotation of developing new weapons. Of course, there's no testing at all over Goose Bay. It's flight training. I point this out, but it doesn't have any effect.

 Another thing we hear is that there are about 10 000 Innu who live in the lowflying area. This figure is constantly passed around, and you will see this in print quite frequently. In grand total there are 10 000 Innu, but this includes those near the outskirts of Montreal. The Innu cover quite a large area. The number of Innu who could ever conceivably set foot in the low-flying area is considerably less. I would say that the maximum number that could ever be in the low-flying area at one time would be 500, but even that can be considered high. Probably it's more like 200. And nobody actually lives in the low-flying area. Nobody at all. They go in for a week or two, or maybe a couple of months, and then they go home.

 NP: Have people moved into disputed areas to press land claims or hunting rights?

Young: We had a case in the spring where some Innu went into a lake which is located very close to the one area which is closed in the whole low-flying area, a practice target area in which we drop inert weapons-concrete bombs and this sort of thing. They set up camp on the lake, but just used it as a dropping-off point. They shuttled people into the practice target area in an attempt to disrupt the flying. And, of course, we don't drop anything if there's someone standing there. The practice target area itself was selected some time ago with the help of an Innu representative who went in by helicopter and indicated that the area under consideration was of no value or significance to the Innu.

NP: You may be able to alert people to stay clear of a particular area, but it's not possible to cordon off wildlife populations. Hunters have to go where the animals are.

 Young: Yes, but even that can be accommodated. We have a standard offer that's been there a long time. Tell us where you are, and we won't fly over you. What we do is put a zone of exclusion, 2000 feet high and two and a half miles in radius, over any area where they tell us they'll be. Since the Innu get dropped off by aircraft, they know exactly where they're going, and they are in radio contact with their home base during their expeditions. That's how they call the aircraft to pick them up. So all they have to do is say they're heading out in this direction for four or five miles, radio that in to the main base in Sheshatshit, and Sheshatshit can call the operations centre. We've got a 1-800 hotline. But the view of the Innu is that they own the land and there is no requirement for them to tell anyone where they're going on their own land. We pick up what we can from the charter operators who drop them off, but without direct contact we can't give any kind of guarantee that we won't overfly them. So they do get overflown, but they needn't.

 NP: Has trying not to overfly disrupted the training?

 Young: No, not at all. In some ways it even adds to the realism. It is only a problem if they intentionally set up their camp so that they will be overflown. Last year they established a camp at the end of the runway and lived there for several weeks. They invited the press, who took all sorts of shots of the Innu with their tents and these planes flying over them at low altitude. Well, they're on takeoff! But it makes good footage. They tried to do that again this year, and they were taken away.

 NP: Statements in the Environmental Impact Statement on the economy might be seen as a scare tactic. How did you deal with objectivity in the EIS?

 Young: Since we formed this office we have tried not to emphasize the economic benefits, because we are not doing this as an economic development project. DND is not in the economic development business; we're in the national defence business. So if the project can't be justified on the basis of its contribution to defence, then we shouldn't be doing it at all. We have tried to emphasize the importance of it from a military perspective, but you can't ignore the fact that it does have tremendous economic benefits that go with it. In many ways, it's bigger than Hibernia for Newfoundland. With the NATO Tactical Fighter Centre in Goose Bay you would have all kinds of NATO money pouring into the province.

 There are probably some people in Happy Valley-Goose Bay who are not concerned one way or the other. They like small-town life, they've got a job, a home. They don't particularly want to see the town get any bigger. So I think the enthusiasm for the NATO centre may be greater in the province than it is among some of the townspeople.

 Now the remaining flying program, the flying that is done there now under the multinational memorandum of understanding, is a different thing. If that were to cease, then the whole purpose of being for Goose Bay would disappear. Goose Bay was formed because of the base. If it closed I cannot imagine what would keep the town going. And that's nothing to do with scare tactics; it's a fact of life.

 NP: Is basing the local economy around a military base a sound idea?

 Young: Well, the town is certainly aware of this problem. People say the economic basis of the town is not stable or reliable, and that we should be doing other things: encouraging tourism, getting industry. It is very easy to say we should be bringing the economy of Newfoundland up to the level of Ontario. And you can say that in 10 seconds, but to do it is another thing. How do you entice people to go into remote areas to establish industry unless it's related to that remote area?

 NP: In light of easing East-West tensions, does this type of project still make sense?

 Young: We've got to be careful not to go too quickly. At the present time we are hearing very encouraging words and seeing very encouraging actions on behalf of the people of Eastern Europe but there's been no real change in their military capability. When you have something that means a tremendous amount to you, you should defend it based on what could possibly happen as opposed to what will probably happen. My own view is that a war now in Europe is unlikely. My view is also that my house is unlikely to burn down, but I pay out $500 a year in insurance, just in case it does.

 If Air Canada were reducing its fleet by 50 per cent, that would not entail an automatic downgrading of the capability of the pilots. That you have fewer aircraft does not mean that your pilots require less training. So as long as there is a requirement for tactical air forces in NATO-and I would suggest that that would be a long time- then there's a need for the base in Goose Bay.

 To a lot of people, low-level flying is a part of a NATO first-strike strategy. The suggestion is that, since we are planning on flying behind enemy lines, therefore, we're planning on starting the war by attacking targets in the Soviet Union. Any general who says, "Here's the border between our two countries; you can come over and attack us however much you want to but we'll never go across your border and attack you", probably won't go down as one of the great military minds of all time! Obviously, if you have fuel dumps behind the lines and you have airfields, then you attack them. And, as a fighter pilot, you just don't live very long if you're more than a hundred feet in the air.

 NP: Can you contemplate a decision that simply says "No" to the base?

 Young: Oh yes, this has been made clear right from the beginning. No decision on the base will be made until the entire environmental process has run its course and the panel has made its recommendations. We had hoped that the environmental process would be finished in time for the NATO decision between Goose Bay and Konya [Turkey], but it became evident some time ago that we would not be able to do that because the environmental process was not finished, and we've informed NATO accordingly. We said, "You may make your choice in May between the two sites, but we won't be in a position to accept for several months afterward." It's a very real possibility that Canada will say 'No.' This is not a rubber-stamp operation. If there is a valid reason why the centre should not be put in place, then it won't be.

 NP: Can the panel say 'Yes', but impose tough restrictions? Are there conditions that would make the project less than viable?

 Young: Oh yes. The panel could make recommendations that we couldn't live with. Then it would be a matter of saying, "We can't live with those recommendations; therefore, we won't have the base." For instance, they might say we can't have flights below 5000 feet, or they might say that we can have a maximum of 50 flights a day. But if they were to say there are six areas which are to be avoided at all times for one reason or another, then we could live with that. Or if they were to say there should be no flying between such and such a time and such and such a time, then we could probably live with that.

 NP: How would you compare the approaches adopted by native organizations in Labrador? There would seem to be a sharp contrast in styles-one consultative and one confrontational.

 Young: LIA has been on a totally professional level throughout. Before the work first started on the EIS the consultants asked the native communities to participate in the studies so that their concerns would be considered and reflected. The LIA have provided information to the consultants. They have responded to questions, they have avoided making comments to the press. Prior to the issuance of the EIS, the LIA position has always been that there is a professional study under way. When the study is finished, we will see what it has to say. We will see whether we agree with it, and, if we don't agree with it, we will certainly make our views known. On the other hand, we are not going to oppose low-level flying on an emotional basis; it would have to have some sort of basis in fact.

"In This Issue..."