Canada orders military members on leave abroad to return home, self-isolate

Canada’s top military commander has issued updated orders requiring all members — regular force and full-time reservists — now on leave outside of the country to return to Canada immediately, CBC News has learned.

Order does not apply to soldiers on operations

Canadian Forces members parade from Parliament Hill during the National Day of Honour in Ottawa on Friday, May 9, 2014. Soldiers abroad on leave have been ordered home and into self-isolation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Canada's top military commander has issued updated orders requiring all members — regular force and full-time reservists — now on leave outside of the country to return to Canada immediately, CBC News has learned.

Once back, they will be required to report to their primary bases and self-isolate for 14 days before returning to duty.

The new directive, a copy of which was obtained by CBC News, does not affect troops deployed on operations in the Middle East, Europe or in other parts of the world. It is confined strictly to those who are travelling for pleasure or on non-essential duty.

The order, issued Tuesday by Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance, mirrors the federal government's urgent plea for Canadians travelling abroad to return home as quickly as possible because of the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus.

"If you're outside the country and outside the U.S., we want to you to come home now," Vance said in an interview with CBC News late Tuesday.

The military also is imposing further restrictions on its members, including a sweeping ban on commercial travel (air, rail and bus) and a ban on members travelling more than 250 kilometres away from their homes or primary bases.

"We've asked people not to take public transport," Vance said. "We are trying to keep the force present. We want them to be present enough that they can be recalled, if we need to recall them." 

Cadets and students at all military schools will be confined to barracks until further notice.

A major annual training exercise in Western Canada, known as Maple Resolve, is also being cancelled. 

The new restrictions build on orders issued last week that saw the military ban travel outside of the country for all members, reduce staff numbers at headquarters and close bases to outside visitors, including foreign delegations.

Canadian soldiers work to hold back floodwaters on the Ottawa River in Fitzroy Harbour, Ont., April 29, 2019. Soldiers could be ordered to help with emergency measures to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The military could conceivably be used to help federal authorities enforce the Emergencies Act, which can be invoked in "urgent and critical" situations when there is a serious danger to lives, or to the health or safety of citizens.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday the government is examining the Emergencies Act to decide if it should be used, or if there are other steps the government could take to protect the public.

The use of the military is considered a last resort for the federal government.

In the interview, Vance said the order is not a precursor to action under the Emergency Act, but is intended to reflect the advice of the country's chief public health officer.

"We want people to get home, but not for a specific mission task I have for them," he said. "We do need to be ready for contingencies that we do not know, but we plan for, particularly pandemic support for Canadians." 

Since the pandemic crisis started, Vance has said repeatedly the precautionary measures being taken by the military are meant to keep the force healthy and prepared in case it's needed by the federal government for further operations, at home or abroad.

The military has continued to conduct routine patrols and operations throughout the crisis, defence officials said.


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.

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