Dear Honoured Readers,
For the remainder of this week, The Dominion commemorates Remembrance Day, this Friday, with noteworthy Canadian military topics. Today, we discuss how Canada’s international military action is tied to independence.
Section 15 of the BNA Act states that “The Command-in-Chief of the Land and Naval Militia, and of all Naval and Military Forces, of and in Canada, is hereby declared to continue and be vested in the Queen.” This provision was adopted at patriation in 1982, which explains why Canada’s military still bears royal nomenclature. For example, our navy is the Royal Canadian Navy and our ships are designated H.M.C.S., for Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship.
At the time of Confederation, Britain intended to utilize Canadian soldiers for Britain’s international war efforts, but Canada was not always on board. For example, the South African War, which lasted from 1899 to 1902, was contentious for some Canadians who did not support Canada’s involvement. Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier recognized that entering this war would risk “national stability and political popularity.” Still, the government of Canada gave their loyal support as British subjects.
Canada started to develop and pay for its own permanent defence force from 1871 to 1883. Between 1850 and 1920, several Militia Acts gave the Parliament of Canada official control over military forces. However, Canadian forces were still commanded by British officers. As a British colony, Canada was obligated to follow Britain into war in 1914. Sir Wilfrid Laurier and Prime Minister Robert Borden publicly pledged their support for the “Mother Country” as World War I began. Public national support for Britain’s effort in the war was a humble, respectful gesture to Britain, especially considering that Canada and Britain had argued over military funding.
Canadian troops gave remarkable efforts in western Europe, most notably at Ypres, Regina Trench, Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, and Mons. Even though Canada was officially “a mere extension” of Britain in the war, the Canadian troops were separate and distinct from their British allies. World powers took note of Canadians who fought hard and who lost their lives. At the beginning of the war, Canada’s military was led by British command. By the end of the war in 1918, a Canadian officer commanded our troops.
This transition was a landmark to distinguish Canada’s nationhood as separate from Britain. As a direct result of success on the battlefields and of sacrifices made by Canadian soldiers, Canada insisted on its own signature on the 1918 Peace Treaty. This signified to Britain and other world powers that Canada was emerging from its subordinated colonial place in world politics to being viewed as an equal, developing their own independent foreign policy.
In 1922, Parliament passed the National Defence Act, amalgamating the naval services, the militia, and the air defence, creating the Department of National Defence in 1923. The Statute of Westminster gave Canada independence to decide on matters of national defence and overseas war. When Britain and France declared war on Germany, Canada quickly followed, but Parliament ensured that the decision to enter was solely Canada’s pledge to aid allies, rather than follow along with Britain’s war policies.
We hope you’ll join us each day this week as we continue to pay homage to fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen, and airwomen.
 “Canada and the South African War, 1899-1902”, Canadian War Museum, online: <www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/boer/boerwarhistory_e.shtml>.
 “Creating a Standing Army”, Canadian War Museum, online: <www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/chrono/1774standing_e.shtml> [Standing Army]; “Military Reform”, Canadian War Museum, online: <www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/chrono/1774reform_e.shtml>.
 Standing Army, supra note 2.
 “Canada Enters the War”, Veterans Affairs Canada, online: <www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/history/first-world-war/canada/Canada3>.
 “Militia Acts”, The Canadian Encyclopedia, online: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/militia-acts/
 “The Aftermath”, Veterans Affairs Canada, online: <www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/history/first-world-war/canada/canada19> [Aftermath].
 “Department of National Defence”, The Canadian Encyclopedia, online: <www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/department-of-national-defence>.
 “About Canada’s Role in World War II”, Canadian Battlefields Foundation, online: <www.cbf-fccb.ca/learn/about-canadas-role-in-wwii/>; 1931 (UK), 22 Geo V, c 4, reprinted in RSC 1985, Appendix II, No 27.