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Canadians Disconnected From Military

Just back from England and America, Rob Roy is interviewed about the latest in military leadership and what it means for young Canadians.

Documentary producer Rob Roy got the initial concept for his latest project at a lecture by retired Colonel Brian MacDonald at the Canadian Forces Staff College in Toronto. The subject – how the media relates to the armed forces – took an unexpected turn when discussion moved on to why the public was disconnected from their military? The lecturer asked if it was due to the scandal over the death of a Somali prisoner by Canadian forces personnel? No, he answered. Was it the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet empire, effectively ending forty years of Cold War? No again.

Instead the former officer pointed to 2 decisions taken in the heady, hippie days of peace and unrest, love and Vietnam, in 1968. The unification of Canada`s Armed Forces prompted a drastic reduction of reserve regiments and secondly, the Canadian Officer Training Corps was cancelled from Canadian universities. The loss of COTC had the greatest effect on the creation of a cultural disconnect because it cut off an entire generation Canadian leaders from knowledge and experience of their military.

So for the curious minded documentarian, the question became – what was the COTC? And what could replace it?

Answering that question would take Rob through 3 countries to date with a 4th on the horizon. He found – “...that the COTC has a long and storied history in Canada, it highlighted a period when an educated citizen was expected to be mindful of a responsibility and sense of duty to contribute service to their country, a tradition which has since gone away.”

A series of films was proposed that would combine research and promotion of a concept to renew the COTC. The first program would be an investigation into what the COTC Program itself meant and offered. Among current officers and university administrators not to mention university students there was no memory of it. Most of the huge baby boom generation missed out on this educational connection. The consequence has been a loss of understanding not just about what the military is but what the military as a national institution is all about, a reflection of Canadian values such as courage, honour and duty.

Step 1 then, find prominent people to talk about how the COTC experience effected their lives.

The research team found many voices offering a similar refrain; that the COTC provided a life enhancing, citizenship enriching experience without any strings attaching them to military service after graduation.

The close knit relations of naval officers made finding graduates of the Navy`s University Naval Training Division, relatively easy to find. A graduates’ newsletter and reunion events led to representatives like author Peter C. Newman, Senator Bill Romkey of Newfoundland, former MP and past President of Ryerson University, Terry Grier, veteran director of The Stratford Festival, John Wood. All were eager to share their memories of experiences enjoyed with the navy as students.

Without an organization to tap into, Army OTC grads proved harder to find. However a substantial number of prominent individuals emerged; businessman Peter Cameron , former General, Lewis Mackenzie, and the first elected Speaker of the House of Commons, John Fraser.

The Air Force was more difficult again and after placing newspaper ads, names began to surface including some women who had graduated from the University Reserve Training Program. Longtime NDP leader Ed Broadbent, former Head Pilot at Air Canada, Charles Simpson, and Alice Rednic, an External Affairs are a few that were interviewed.

Rob knew he was on to something as he watched them warm to the subject - ``Generally they all considered it a wonderful program that gave them an insight they would never have otherwise enjoyed, it was a respected part of university life and the social scene on campus in the 1950’s.”

Being a good Canadian citizen and a leader were rolled into one concept and while leadership is no less important today, the means of being schooled in it have all but disappeared.

These findings and views are being turned into an elegant 1 hour documentary that captures the spirit of a confident time in Canada’s history. These observations by successful Canadians prompted the production team to look for OTC programs in other English speaking countries. Interestingly they do more than exist, OTC programs thrive in Britain, the United States and Australia.

Not Available in Canada? Pity

Plans and connections were made to take their research to England, home to the original inspiration for Canada`s abandoned Officer Training Corps

. In February 2008, Rob and Director Alex Khan took their film crew to England to survey the Cambridge University Officer Training Corps. Here they found spectacular enthusiasm from the young participants, the faculty and the military program leaders.
Rob laughs, “I thought if I heard the expressions - Bloody wonderful and brilliant! again, my head would explode. But is truly exciting”

They accompanied the London OTC and the Cambridge OTC on weekend field exercises, where student teams were sent into the woods to conduct training exercises as soldiers. There they would learn the basics of military tactics, leadership, communication and discipline in specific assignments like assaulting an enemy position 3 kilometres away. The students had real weapons but fired blanks during the training. They had to develop strategies and react, adapting to changing circumstances, using practical training to communicate and coordinate in order to achieve their objective. It was easy to see how graduates of these programs might be encouraged to join the military but there is no obligation to do so.

“We went with them into the woods expecting to experience firsthand the meaning of – ‘if it isn’t raining it isn’t training’ but the weather was great.” Rob was relieved and admits he and the crew stayed in hotels.

While there is some money paid for participating, Rob found these officer cadets were more motivated by sharing bonding experiences and enjoying the self confidence they found as a consequence of being tested. Students have found that overcoming these challenges is a very attractive attribute to their prospective employers.

There is also growing support for the British OTC experience to qualify as work in university co-operative programs which could be of interest in Canada. The new program, Leadership in Action: Deciding and Doing which is now being set up at the University of Exeter is an intriguing prospect. This program will focus on practical team building and leadership exercises drawn from OTC field experiences.

Back in Cambridge, the crew followed the students during the school week as well, in order to see how the OTC program affected their educational lives. The students tracked seemed to be enjoying the challenges. A national Military Educational Council oversees the program in 18 universities, each with a local council providing the connecting link between the British Army that runs the program and the University that provides the students.

The resulting video research will be edited into an hour length television documentary broadcasting the first hand experience of what participants enjoyed and what could become a Canadian experience sometime in the future.

There was no COTC available at university when Rob attended and he feels “Canadian kids are really missing something. I’m determined that Canadian students should have an opportunity to participate in something like the COTC that directly relates to citizenship and service to the country. Historically the military has done this in connection with the universities and that could happen again.

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  Canadian Officer Training Corps Video

McGill COTC recruits

  Second World War McGill COTC recruits
British OTC
  One of a number of British OTC programs















































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