Command, discipline, and leadership are the essence of the military system. At the head of the system stands the commander, the officer from whom all authority radiates. Traditionally, command is defined as the legal authority to issue orders and to compel obedience. It must be clear in law, organization, and execution. Thus, command, decision, and organization are all highly integrated.1 The chain of command describes a linked system of officers in command of units and formations.
Military command is of course a human activity, fashioned by creative imagination and therefore beset by the frailties of human nature. The operations of the armed forces place people in harm's way and may demand that they sacrifice their lives. Often soldiers follow their leaders willingly and obey their orders even in the most trying situations. At other times, soldiers have resorted to mutiny and resisted every effort to compel them. Although command authority is usually reinforced by a code of military laws to maintain discipline, authority without sound leadership is rarely effective by itself.
Military leadership -- the ability to gain the willing obedience of subordinates -- is an essential component of command. Personal courage, integrity, sacrifice, a willingness to take difficult decisions, and "a clear sense of personal responsibility" have characterized military leadership throughout the ages. When this sense of responsibility is married to "a deep personal understanding of the troops and their problems, a clear purpose, discipline, and hard training", soldiers have followed leaders without coercion.2 War is conducted in an environment of great personal danger, and orders alone may not hold troops under fire, but respected leaders usually do.
The most successful leaders, however, can accomplish little if they are indecisive or if their decisions are flawed. Careful plans, the best weapons and well trained troops are all wasted if the commander fails to employ them wisely. Sound decisions may be the essence of command, but commanders need sound training, proven staffs, and a balanced combination of logic and intuition gained from experience. Without these aids, according to experienced commanders, "an uncertain perspective, intuition, and the plausible will dominate and action will tend to be haphazard or misdirected."3
Command decision begins from a clear perspective and careful analysis of the circumstances in which the decision will be made. A commander's staff and subordinate commanders may help to assess any situation, but "[t]he commander, by his own statement and analysis of objectives, fulfills his inescapable obligation to provide unity of concept in the midst of diverse distractions, contradiction, and paradox."4 Finally, however, the decision is left to the commander alone and ultimately depends on the commander's courage to make it and integrity in taking responsibility for it.
Command includes choice and judgement and therefore involves ethics. Traditionally, commanders are held "ethically responsible for what they do precisely in terms of what they promise to do and not to do. Specifically, soldiers are ethically responsible for observing the code of ethics they agreed to uphold when they acquired special membership in the profession of arms."5 In the CF, this 'code' is implicit in the custom of the service6 and enforced by the Code of Service Discipline,7 and it applies to all officers and non-commissioned members. For commanders, however, it carries special meaning.
Although all persons are ultimately responsible for their own fate, military service in effect transfers individual choice from subordinate to superior. Moreover, the effects of command carry risks for those who are obliged by law to obey commands and orders. Commanders therefore must, through intellect, training, and experience, understand the reasons for and the consequences of their actions or inactions. Furthermore, commanders may be called upon to explain and defend their choices in terms of both the Code of Service Discipline and what society perceives as right and wrong.
The chain of command in the CF is, first, an authority and accountability chain from the office of the CDS to the lowest element of the CF and back to the office of the CDS. It is also a hierarchy of individual commanders who take decisions within their linked functional formations and units. The chain of command, therefore, is a military instrument joining a superior officer -- meaning "any officer or non-commissioned member who, in relation to any other officer or non-commissioned member, is by [the National Defence Act], or by regulation or custom of the service, authorized to give a lawful command to that other officer or non-commissioned member"8 -- to other officers and non-commissioned members of the CF. No other person, including ministers and public servants, is part of the chain of command, nor does any other person have any command, authority in the CF.
The chain of command in the CF, beginning with the CDS, is composed of commanders who have different degrees of authority. An officer commanding a command is usually a general officer appointed by the CDS. The Commander Land Force Command is an example. Commanding officers are appointed to command units and elements of the CF, and their terms of reference are drawn from their superior's orders, custom, and regulation. An officer who is appointed to command a sub-unit or sub-element of a major unit, such as a commando in the Canadian Airborne Regiment, is usually referred to as an 'officer commanding'.
The major difference between these appointments is that commanders of commands, commanding officers, and officers commanding all have graduated powers of punishment and other powers drawn from the National Defence Act (NDA) and regulations. Commanders of commands have powers prescribed by regulation, extending to the "exercise [of] command over all formations, bases, units and elements allocated to the command"9 and certain other powers, such as the power to convene courts martial.10 On the other hand, commanding officers and officers commanding have authority only over their units and sub-units and lesser powers under the NDA.11
In the CF, the term commander can be used generally to describe any officer who is appointed to a position of command of a command, unit, or element of the CF In this report, the term commander is used in this general sense to refer to officers in any command appointment.
Where our report refers to actual establishment positions in the CF, the more exact term is used. For example, we refer to officers commanding CF commands as 'commanders of commands' and officers commanding units or elements of the CF as 'commanding officers'. Where we refer to individual officers commanding CF commands, their rank and name are used, for instance, LGen Gervais, Commander Land Force Command. Similarly when we refer to particular commanding officers, the individual is identified by rank and name, for instance, LCol Morneault, Commanding Officer, CAR.
Commanders give direction to members of the CF and subordinate commanders by issuing lawful commands and orders, which subordinate commanders are compelled to obey. These lawful orders originate in the NDA as amplified in regulations, principally the Queen's Regulations and Orders (QR&O). Orders can take several forms. For example, the CDS may issue CF-wide orders. Examples of these include Canadian Forces Administrative Orders (CFAOs) and Canadian Forces Organization Orders (CFOOs). Commanders of commands may issue command-wide orders, and commanding officers might issue orders applicable throughout their units. Often, commanders and commanding officers issue so-called 'standing orders' and 'routine orders' covering routine matters such as the duties of guards and sentries. All these orders, notwithstanding their method of transmittal, have the force of a direct order from the issuing commander.
During operations, commanders at all levels issue orders to their troops and subordinate commanders to give effect to their plans. These orders may be issued in writing or orally, depending on the urgency of the situation, the level of command, and the complexity of the operation, among other things. In the army, a commander may bring subordinates together and give orders in what is called an 'orders group'. Again, regardless of the method used to give orders, they are orders from the authorized commander and must be obeyed.
Members of the CF are not required to obey any orders or directions issued to them by anyone other than superior officers of the CF On the other hand, every person who disobeys a lawful command of a superior officer may be guilty of an offence under the NDA.12 This stipulation defines accountability in the CF -- subordinate to superior -- and is reinforced by section 129 of the NDA which states that "any act, conduct, disorder, or neglect to the prejudice of good order and discipline is an offence." Moreover, the fact of enrolment in the CF (section 20, NDA) places an individual under the provisions of the Code of Service Discipline and requires that individual to act in conformity with the norms of good order and discipline. Members of the CF, therefore, are always required to obey lawful orders and are always liable to be called to account by their superiors, whether they are under specific orders or not.
The chain of command functions within the CF. Appointment of an officer to command a command, unit or element of the CF confers special responsibilities on that officer because it requires the officer to train, discipline, and administer the forces under command. Several aspects of the custom of the service distinguish superior officers appointed as commanders from all other superior officers. First, such appointments are usually limited in time. Second, the organization of units provides for a clear hierarchy of officers and non-commissioned members so that a commander is usually the only lawful source of commands and orders within a particular unit or other element.
This status is emphasized by the fact that officers appointed as commanders have special powers, such as the power to authorize officers or other ranks to lay charges under the Code of Service Discipline and special powers of punishment, only while they hold that appointment. Also, under the custom of the service and regulation, commanding officers are held directly accountable and responsible for the performance of their units and formations.13
Officers appointed to command CF commands, units, and formations have special responsibilities under regulations. Among other things, commanding officers at every level are "responsible for the whole of the organization" they command and cannot delegate "matters of general organization and policy; important matters requiring [the commander's] personal attention and decision; and the general control and supervision of the various duties that the commanding officer has allocated to others."14 It is our understanding that an officer commanding a command and all other senior commanders have in custom, and by analogy with QR&O 4.20, the same or similar responsibilities as a commanding officer. These responsibilities and the additional powers given to commanders under the NDA and regulations demand their unqualified diligence in the performance of their duties.
While officers are always accountable for the units under their command, it would be unusual for a superior officer to bypass immediate subordinate commanders to issue orders directly to units or individuals. Nevertheless, both the custom of the service and the NDA compel superior officers -- inside or outside the extant chain of command -- to take corrective action whenever they believe subordinates have issued illegal orders or endangered their troops and when they observe acts contrary to good order and discipline. Therefore, although the organization of the CF into units and other elements provides for a logical way to issue orders, maintain discipline, conduct operations, and assess accountability, it is not sacrosanct.
The law governing command authority in the CF is prescribed in the NDA and in regulations. Primary authority rests with the Governor in Council for the "organization, training, discipline, efficiency, administration, and good government of the Canadian Forces" (section 12). The minister, under section 12(2), also has the power to regulate the same matters but is subject to Governor in Council and Treasury Board primacy. Command of and in the CF, however, is a distinct activity, separate from these general categories.
The legislative aspects of command are addressed in two provisions. Section 18(1) of the NDA states that the Governor in Council may appoint a chief of the defence staff "who shall...subject to the regulations and under the direction of the Minister, be charged with the control and administration of the Canadian Forces." "Control and administration" must be interpreted as the military notion of full command, subject only to the prerogatives of the Queen of Canada, the NDA, and the direction of the minister. Furthermore, command of and in the CF is confirmed as a military activity that flows through officers and non-commissioned members of the CF by section 18(2):
Unless the Governor in Council otherwise directs, all orders and instructions to the Canadian Forces that are required to give effect to the decisions and to carry out the directions of the Government of Canada or the Minister shall be issued by or through the Chief of the Defence Staff.
The NDA provision regarding command states that "[t]he authority and powers of command of officers and non-commissioned members shall be as prescribed in regulations."15 One of the regulations implementing this statutory provision is QR&O 1.13. It is a regulation made by the Governor in Council and states that the CDS may assign some of the CDS's powers to assistant deputy ministers of DND who are officers of the CF:
Where any power or jurisdiction is given to, or any act or thing is required to be done by, to or before the Chief of the Defence Staff, the Chief of the Defence Staff may, on such terms and conditions as he deems necessary, assign that power or jurisdiction to, or authorize that act or thing to be done by, to or before an officer [of the CF] not below the rank of major-general holding [an associate or assistant deputy minister appointment] at National Defence Headquarters...and, subject to any terms or conditions prescribed by the Chief of the Defence Staff, that power or jurisdiction may be exercised by, or that act or thing may be done by, to or before that officer (emphasis added).16
QR&O 1.14, 1.15, and 1.16 empower the CDS to authorize anyone (officer or civilian) holding a position of assistant deputy minister to exercise powers or jurisdiction of the CDS under regulations made by the Treasury Board, the Governor in Council, or the minister.17 Thus, the law allows civilian assistant deputy ministers to exercise certain responsibilities of the chief of the defence staff, although with limitations. Assistant deputy ministers have no right to act in the place of the CDS without the CDS's authority. In any case, these individuals are expressly excluded from acting in areas dealing with rank and structure of the CF, aid of the civil power, code of service discipline, and any aspect of operations or the chain of command of the armed forces.18 These provisions provide only for the delegation of the powers of the CDS to civilian assistant deputy ministers in the non-command areas of policy, finance, and materiel.
Thus, the chain of command the linked military system of authority and accountability in the CF -- can be described in two ways. First, it is a hierarchy of individual commanders beginning (and ending, ultimately) in the office of the CDS. Whereas the CDS serves at the pleasure of the government, commanders serve only at the pleasure of the CDS. Second, the chain of command is also an organizational hierarchy of functional formations, units, and elements together constituting the CF These formations, units and elements exist only at the pleasure of the minister of National Defence, and none has any permanent life or legal status beyond the CF as a 'single service'.
The Code of Service Discipline is applicable only to members of the CF except in special circumstances. Therefore, not only are civilians normally not subject to the orders of military persons, but members of the CF are not in any way subject to orders issued to them by civilians. Even the minister is not in the chain of command. The minister has no authority to issue orders to the CF except through the CDS and then only within prescribed limits. As Brooke Claxton once remarked during his long term as defence minister, "The chain of command flows from the commander-in-chief... in Canada the Governor General, down to the lowest recruit.... The minister is not in the chain of command; nor should he issue orders any more than he should wear a uniform."19
The chain of command in the CF as set out in the NDA and regulations is unambiguous. Beginning with the CDS, it links superior officers of the CF to every individual member of the CF. The NDA stipulates how lawful orders are to be passed down in the CF, that is, from superior to subordinate members. The regulations compel subordinates to obey any commands and orders that are not manifestly illegal. Furthermore, the law, regulations, and custom of the service imply that superior officers will oversee carefully the execution of lawful commands, orders, and directions, for to do otherwise would be prejudicial to good order and discipline within the CF and a dereliction of duty.20 The chain of command therefore defines accountability and responsibility within the CF, because it indisputably links individuals with authority and responsibility to other individuals with lesser levels of authority and responsibility.
The chief of the defence staff is obviously distinct from every other officer of the CF This position encompasses several unique (and overlapping) duties and responsibilities as leader of the Canadian Forces and as the governments military adviser. This is the officer who connects the armed forces to the government and the government to the armed forces. No CDS should attempt to force a military solution on the defence minister or the Cabinet, but neither can the CDS temper advice to satisfy partisan political interests. But no CDS is ever a neutral messenger, because a principal duty of the CDS is to give the government sound apolitical military advice and then to ensure that the government's decisions are carried out by the Canadian Forces.
In reality, the relationship between any CDS and the government is not set by rules, but rather is defined by the confidence each has in the other. The government must have confidence in the integrity of the advice offered by the chief of the defence staff, and the CDS must have confidence in the government's defence policy. Furthermore, the CDS must weigh government policy against the responsibility to support the members of the CF and to protect them from undue harm. Where confidence is absent on either side, civil/military relations suffer; this in turn has negative consequences for control over the armed forces and accountability.
Although it is not so stated in the NDA, the CDS is the de jure and de facto commander of the CF, and officers look to that person for command decisions. The CDS is responsible ultimately for the CF and for the duties that the incumbent delegates to subordinate commanders. The CDS cannot stand apart from the chain of command without breaking the chain of authority and accountability in the armed forces. Furthermore, because the CDS is the link between Parliament and the CF, any separation of the CDS from the commanders and units in the field reduces civil control over the military. Unity of command, therefore, is an essential part of civil/military relations, more important, perhaps, than a mere prerequisite to military discipline and efficiency.
The CDS shares responsibility for national defence with government leaders. In both law and custom, the CDS has duties to Canada and to the members of the CF that transcend the line between the preferences of the government and military operations. No CDS can acquiesce in policies that might recklessly endanger national defence or the lives of service personnel. The chief of the defence staff is by statute responsible for the control and administration of the CF at all times, and these professional duties cannot be compromised. The CDS is responsible for providing appropriate but apolitical advice to ministers and for carrying out wide-ranging duties without regard for partisan politics. It is possible, therefore, that the competing nature of the CDS's duties could bring that individual into conflict with the government's opinions, policies and interests. Certainly, any chief of the defence staff would want to avoid such a situation, but, at the same time, whoever occupies that office must compromise neither political neutrality nor responsibility to Canada or the CF simply to avoid a confrontation.
Parliament demands that the Canadian Forces be commanded by officers who are accountable to Parliament. The system of command of the CF in peacetime, crisis, and war is therefore an essential component of national civil/military relations. If the system of command is not precise, then accountability and parliamentary control of the armed forces will be diminished.