Canada offers Japan military and other aid

Ottawa says it's ready to provide 'any and all' possible aid to Japan, including sending Canadian troops, following Friday's deadly earthquake and tsunami.
An American navy officer hands supplies to a Japanese aid worker during relief efforts near Sendai, Japan. Canada is offering to send military and other aid as well. (Dylan McCord/Navy Visual News Service/Associated Press)

Ottawa says it's ready to provide "any and all" possible aid to Japan, including sending Canadian troops, following Friday's deadly earthquake and tsunami.

Japan's ambassador to Canada, Kaoro Ishikawa, said Ottawa was one of the first governments to offer support in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Following its initial offer to help, Canada was asked to outline specific ways that it could offer assistance, and it has now done that.

The offers of assistance include a 17-member, victim-identification team that is on standby and ready to be deployed to Japan.

Canada has also offered chemical, biological, and nuclear technical expertise and equipment, according to a statement from Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon's office.

The Canadian Forces are also willing to send personnel and planes to help with humanitarian relief efforts, and that could involve deploying its Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART).

The decision to send the rapid response specialists to disaster zones is made based on a joint recommendation from several government departments: Foreign Affairs, National Defence, and the Canadian International Development Agency.

The DART unit is only sent to an area if the government there makes a formal request for it. When DART has been deployed in the past, in Haiti, for example, its members provided medical care, temporary shelter and safe drinking water.

Diane Ablonczy, minister of state for foreign affairs, told CBC's Power and Politics that Japan has called in assistance from some of the countries who have offered, but she wouldn't say the DART unit would go.

"We're co-operating and collaborating with the Japanese government. And they will know what they will need and they know what we can provide and we just wait until they're ready for us to move ahead with some of the things that we've suggested," Ablonczy said to host Rosemary Barton.

There are no plans for the government to match Canadian donations to Japan, she said.

Ishikawa said any disaster relief teams would have to be self-sufficient, because local infrastructure is so decimated. Relief workers would have to have their own food, water, sleeping equipment, and sanitation kits, the ambassador said.

He also noted that interpreters would be required, because many Japanese don't speak English, particularly in the rural areas.

"It's put us in an awkward position," Ishikawa said, referring to the logistical difficulties of accepting offers of assistance. "We are not refusing at all any help; we need help."

Ishikawa has relayed the offers of assistance to the Japanese government and Canada is now on standby to fulfil any official requests for help.

Expresses his gratitude

The ambassador expressed his gratitude for the offers of support from the Canadian government, and also said the moral support offered by Canadians has been extremely valuable.

"We need that kind of encouragement. Moral support is indeed what we really need at this point, and we are receiving that from Canada, and I really want to say thank you for that," he said.

"We are really grateful for the kind words of compassion and support and actions offered by many foreign governments, including and to start with, Canada."

A bouquet of flowers was laid by the gate of the Japanese embassy in Ottawa, and Ishikawa said he was deeply touched by the gesture.

"That is a typical case of Canadian kindness," he said.

Cannon is in Paris on Monday to meet with his G8 counterparts, with the international response to the disaster in Japan expected to dominate discussions.

"Our government has been actively engaged since learning of this tragic event," Cannon said in a statement. "As Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated, Canada stands ready to provide any and all possible assistance to the people of Japan."

Cannon's office said government officials are in contact with the United Nations and the International Red Cross, which have dispatched disaster-assessment teams to Japan.

The government is advising Canadians who want to help the people of Japan to donate money to experienced humanitarian organizations.