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An Interview with Dr. Chris R. Kilford on Background, Iran and Turkey, and Canadian and Allied Forces, and Humanitarian Issues (Part One)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/04/01


Dr. Chris Kilford is the President of the Canadian International Council – Victoria Branch. He discusses: background; pressing issues regarding Iran and Turkey; and advising Canadian forces and other allied forces, and executive decisions on catastrophes or humanitarian issues.

Keywords: Canadian Armed Forces, Canadian International Council, Chris Kilford, humanitarian, president, Victoria.

An Interview with Dr. Chris R. Kilford on Background, Iran and Turkey, and Canadian and Allied Forces, and Humanitarian Issues: President, Canadian International Council – Victoria Branch (Part One)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

*Interview conducted on February 3, 2020.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is some background, so the readers can know where you’re coming from today?

Dr. Chris R. Kilford: I went into the military right out of high school. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after high school, but I thought the military was a good choice. I went in as a private – a soldier and I was in a tank regiment. After three years of doing that, one of the officers came to me, and asked if I had ever considered officer training. I hadn’t. But he briefed me about it, gave me the forms to fill out. I filled them out and soon after, I got a call and was told that I was going off to officer training. I eventually became an artillery officer, using Howitzer gun systems to launch projectiles, and then moved into the air defence world with guns and missile systems that we used to shoot down airplanes, helicopters, and drones. That was the early part of my career. As I got a little older, and didn’t have a degree, I managed to get a B.A. in Political Studies and an M.A. in Political Studies and a Ph.D. in history, all while working in the Armed Forces. These opened up jobs in a much wider sphere. That led to me heading off to Toronto in 2001 where I looked after the national security program, which is, now, a year-long course for our senior military leaders. I then went to Ottawa leading a group of futurists – looking at where security issues would crop up around the world in the next 20 years. From there, I was made the Deputy Director of a team writing our new defence strategy which came out in 2008.

Once you get this educational background, people begin to notice. I went to the Senate of Canada to work with the Standing Committee on National Security and Defence in our Department of National Defence. I was asked to go to Afghanistan for one year at our embassy there. I was walking between the military and diplomatic life with the embassy. Afterwards, I was asked to learn Turkish and was then sent to Turkey for three years as the military attaché in Ankara. The job of the military attaché is to keep an eye on the region, and work with the host country’s military. There are always ship visits and military exchanges. Turkey is also a NATO member. I was also cross-accredited to Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkmenistan and responsible for building military-to-military relations. Also, I was keeping an eye on the region and security issues that might arise. When I was there from 2011 to 2014, there were quite a few things – a lot of things – going on in the region, especially with the Assad government coming under pressure. We saw foreign fighters coming to Syria, the rise of the Islamic State. All of that was while I was there. I was reporting back to Ottawa about what was happening so they could have a good idea. I did that with my colleagues in the embassy who were also trying to portray what was happening to prepare for the future. The question always arises, “Why care? We are a million miles away.” But as we can see, there are over 500 Canadian troops in Iraq, now, training the Iraqi Armed Forces. We also had the shooting down of the passenger jet by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which lead to the need of having Canadians on the ground and people there.

You’re out there and a footman on the ground. You simply never know when you will be called to action.

2. Jacobsen: What do you consider some of the more pressing issues with regard to Iran and Turkey in international relations for Canadian society?

Kilford: You have to step back when you look at the whole region. It seems like a long way away. If you look at the post-1945/post-WWII period, we saw the first Canadian peacekeepers go to Egypt in 1956 laying the groundwork for a mission that would last for 10 years. It was right at the time of the Suez Canal crisis. Lester Pearson put forth Canada as a people who could separate the Israelis and the Egyptians and allow the British and the French to withdraw. We were there up until 1967. We were told to leave by the Egyptian authorities, then the ’67 war occurred. By 1973, we were back with another peacekeeping force in the area. We also sent peacekeepers to Cyprus in 1964. The single highest loss of life by peacekeepers, Canadian peacekeepers, occurred in August, 1974, when a plane painted in U.N. colours was shot down by the Syrian air defence. We lost 9 personnel that day. Then you can move through to other issues like the 1991 Gulf War, which we were also involved with and the evacuation of 15,000 Canadian citizens from Lebanon in 2006. Today, Canada is also now in charge of the training mission in Baghdad under  NATO command. From a diplomatic perspective, what happened in Iran in 1979/1980 with Ken Taylor and Canada becoming involved in the escape of some American diplomats from Iran, demonstrates this is an area [the Middle East] that we have always been involved in. Also, we have business interests in the Middle East. I was in Oman, recently. Tim Horton’s [Laughing] has an outlet in Muscat. Also, in a couple of other places in the Gulf. I would say Tim Horton’s is an American company now but with its headquarters is in Canada and has mostly Canadian staff.

We have always been there in that region. It keeps drawing us in for lots of reasons. I think one of the things that we currently lack is a diplomatic presence for a lot of reasons. We closed our Iranian embassy in 2012. We closed our embassy in Damascus during the Civil War. We had a diplomatic presence in Baghdad for a long time. Now, we have a small footprint there. Keeping an eye on the region, certainly after the Arab Spring, it was more and more difficult because you did not have people sitting there to do that. However, things are beginning to settle down. We are thinking about how to move diplomatic relations forward in the region, whether a larger presence in Iraq with a larger embassy, how we will have relations with Syria because we have a lot of Syrian refugees who have extended families. Sometimes, you have to work with the Syrian government, whether you like it or not. Other countries are beginning to repair relations with Assad, which is another factor as well.

3. Jacobsen: What about if you take unfortunate sudden events in any of the number of countries that you have worked in, personally, or have intimate contact with others who have extensive knowledge who are in the Forces or are on diplomatic, or other, work projects as well? What comes across in your conversations with them apart from broad strokes or impressionistic ideas about the region? For instance, you are pointing out both the difficulties about taking out 15,000 Canadians out of Lebanon. At the same time, there can be issues of ground-to-air systems, apparently, accidentally shooting down a passenger jet. These things can take a relatively rapid turn. Your expertise comes to fore. I am trying to get at two things. How do you pivot to advising the Canadian Forces and other allied forces and representatives? Following from that, what other forms of advice are taken into account by these forces or representatives before making executive decisions on what to do about either a media thing that is a catastrophe or a humanitarian issue on the ground?

Kilford: Yes, when you have an embassy in a country on the ground, you have the Canadian diplomatic staff and locally employed staff who, often, stay with an embassy for decades and establish their own network of contacts and know their respective governments. Let’s say we’re in Turkey, they [the locally employed staff] have a network of people who know how to work with the Turkish government, not on secret things, but just general life. So, they have that network of contacts.  Future  Canadian staff who come also have a group of contacts made by the previous person to work with. When in an embassy working in a place like Turkey, you have people with a huge amount of knowledge. You need to be dealing with stuff like crime, RCMP officers or CSIS officers dealing with human smuggling, drug smuggling, is just a start. Then there are embassy people supporting civil society, bringing Canadian values to discussions. There is a lot going on in the embassy. That is day-to-day life. Invariably, you will get some disaster occurring. Very often, in Turkey, it can be an earthquake, or what we saw in Iran with an airplane being shot down. Or it can be a terrorist attack with Canadians involved as victims.

So, there’s, first of all, the question from Ottawa about what is happening on the ground? When you have that network of contacts, you can very quickly discern the nature of what is happening and what is needed. If the host government is asking for  help, then you can at least have the channels to say, “Look, we can do this to help you.” If you aren’t there, then you can’t help. It comes down to small things. One of my jobs as a military attaché was to get clearance for Canadian aircraft to pass through Turkish air space, especially in the case of an emergency to bring supplies to Afghanistan. A non-standard route, I would call my Turkish colleagues on behalf of the Canadian Air Force to get either landing rights or transit rights through Turkish air space fairly quickly. Without me being on the ground; this would have taken a lot longer. Even though we are living in a high tech world it still comes down to personal relationships 9 times out of 10 to get things done. When you don’t have a diplomatic presence, you often don’t get things done and are in the dark. In such a case, you have to rely on third countries to now look after our diplomatic relations. If we have a problem with a Canadian citizen in Syria, we turn to the Romanian embassy. If it is Iran, I think it is the Italians who help us. They will do their best to help us with their networks. We do this for other countries, where they don’t have a diplomatic presence. When it is a crisis, like the downing of a passenger jet as we saw in Iran, recently, if you’re not on the ground, it is a struggle.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] President, Canadian International Council – Victoria Branch.

[2] Individual Publication Date: April 1, 2020:; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020:


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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