New Brunswick

2,000 troops on standby, ready to respond in Atlantic Canada

About 2000 reservists are on standby waiting to pitch in and help with COVID-19 or natural disaster relief in Atlantic Canada, if needed.

Soldiers ready to help with COVID-19 or natural disaster relief

Military vehicles cross the bridge onto Randolph Island in Saint John in 2019. (CBC)

About 2,000 reservists are on standby waiting for a call that may or may not come in Atlantic Canada. 

Brig.-Gen. Roch Pelletier, commander 5th Canadian Division, says troops are ready to help with COVID-19, or natural disaster relief, such as a flood, if requested.

"We just want to make sure that we have plenty of forces ready, so when the call comes the army is there and we can support the population as we always do," Pelletier said.

The soldiers are primarily based in the region but about 100 could be arriving from Kingston, Ont.

"If we wait to do any preparation and planning until the request comes, we may not be on the ground as fast as expected."

Pelletier said the reservists wouldn't be required to self-isolate if they travel for duty.

"As the Canadian Armed Forces, if they come on duty, which they would, we don't have to do that, we don't have to do the 14 days isolation."

Pelletier said all troops have been working from home since March 9 or 10, and they haven't been allowed to travel outside the country or province for the last three weeks, as a safety precaution.

Reservists are part-time soldiers who work other careers or attend school.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Sunday that reservists will be offered full-time jobs in the Canadian Forces, which will have the same pay and benefits as regular force personnel, for the "coming months."

About 2000 reservists are on standby in Atlantic Canada. (CBC)

Pelletier said some of the reservists are no longer working or in school because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so he's pleased with the prime minister's offer.

"At least by putting them on full time service, they will have a guaranteed salary," Pelletier said, adding that the contract started Sunday and is good until Aug. 31.

Pelletier said the troops will be ready to help out in a variety of ways, but it's hard to say what they will be doing until the call for help comes.

"It's very hard to say where exactly we will work, it really depends what will be the need of each of the provinces — if they need us, they may not need us at all," he said.

But Pelletier said troops wouldn't be directly in the hospitals.

"We don't have much capability to do that, but we could probably support them elsewhere — transport of goods or necessary goods."

Pelletier said it's a long list of possible ways that troops can help but gave examples of offering resources to government departments such as 'expert planners' or 'liaison officers.'

He said troops will also be ready for natural disaster relief if it's needed. 

"Just like we did with the flood in New Brunswick last spring."

Pelletier said no requests have been made from provinces in Atlantic Canada yet.

"But we never know how it will turn, so if ever it goes very bad and they need us then we'll be ready."

In addition to the 2,000 troops on standby, Pelletier said the air force and navy are also ready to help.


Gary Moore

CBC News

Gary Moore is a video journalist based in Fredericton.