Lieutenant General Walter Semianiw, Commander, Canada Command


On Friday, September 23, 2011, HSPI hosted Lieutenant General Walter Semianiw, Commander, Canada Command at an Ambassadors Roundtable Series event.

Lieutenant General Semianiw shared his unique perspective on: the implementation of the Canada First Defence Strategy in the Americas; what the Canadian Forces are doing in Canada; their activities in the North, now and in the future; how the Canadian Forces cooperate with their defence partners in the United States and Mexico in order to enhance security and civil assistance throughout continental North America; and how the Canadian Forces' work with Latin America will contribute to Western Hemispheric security.

Featured Speaker: LGen. Walter Semianiw
Commander, Canada Command

Moderated By: Frank Cilluffo
Director, HSPI


The tragic events of September 11, 2001, and natural disasters like the Ice Storm (1998) and Hurricane Katrina (2005), focused attention on the need for more coherent defence structures in Canada and North America. The need for greater coordination with government departments and agencies, as well as cross-border coordination with the United States, also became apparent.

To address the new security environment, and to facilitate coordination with law enforcement agencies and civil authorities, Canada's Chief of the Defence Staff envisioned a single operational commander responsible for all domestic and continental Canadian Forces operations. Canada Command was the result. Under Canada Command, Canada and continental North America are now a single theatre of operations for the Canadian Forces, offering a single point of contact for the spectrum of defence and security partners.

Event Summary

On Friday, September 23, 2011, Lieutenant General Walter Semianiw, Commander of Canada Command, shared his unique perspective on a wide range of issues: the implementation of the Canada First Defense Strategy in the Americas; what the Canadian Forces are doing in Canada; their activities in the North, now and in the future; how the Canadian Forces cooperate with their defense partners in the United States and Mexico in order to enhance security and civil assistance throughout continental North America; and how the Canadian Forces' work with Latin America will contribute to Western Hemispheric security.

U.S. and Canadian national security architectures changed significantly in response to the September 11th attacks. In 2002, America saw the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), which was designed to further homeland defense and coordinate defense support of civil authorities. Similarly in 2003, Canada stood up an organization loosely analogous to DHS, in the form of Public Safety Canada. The birth of Canada Command (CANADACOM) followed in 2006. As LGen. Semianiw explained, the Command’s role is “to act when the lives of Canadians are in jeopardy. … We are not first responders, we are the last resort.” To him, the home game is “non-discretionary”—“you cannot lose at home.” Public Safety Canada and DHS work closely together, as do CANADACOM and USNORTHCOM. The latter two organizations are tightly connected and have an exceptional working relationship, as was clearly evidenced in the mutual support furnished for the security arrangements leading up to the Vancouver Olympic games in 2010.

The mission of CANADACOM is “to defend against threats and aggression within Canada, North America, the Western Hemisphere, and its approaches.” To these ends, the Command put forth this year a Five-year Theatre Campaign Plan. The backdrop for this action includes a contemporary landscape in which national security and emergency management are inextricably linked, and the domestic, regional, and international spheres are substantially interconnected. These features, in turn, heighten the importance of coordination and cooperation as well as information and intelligence sharing both within and between countries. Trust is both the pre-condition for, and foundation of, these endeavors. Accordingly, relationship-building is crucial, but so too are effective institutions. And as LGen. Semianiw noted further, “no one agency has all the authorities or responsibilities.”

The General also highlighted the inter-relationship (beyond borders) between security & defense, and economics, with the former supporting the latter by fostering the stable climate that is needed to encourage and generate prosperity. In this context, he cited the Canadian military’s contribution to security sector reform overseas in Afghanistan, which is in part intended to help create the conditions needed for companies to invest there.

Returning closer to home, LGen. Semianiw detailed Canada’s northern strategy and activities. This fall, the country will run the first-ever Arctic search and rescue exercise, which will involve all eight Arctic Council nations. Canada Command is also studying the spectrum of threats that could manifest in the Arctic in the coming decades, including oil spills and earthquakes. The General cautioned that it is “better to go slow” here, since “a footprint in the North lasts forty years.”

Looking further south, and in response to an audience question about drug cartels and the violence they have inflicted upon Mexico, L.Gen. Semianiw emphasized that this is not just a challenge for Mexico—but rather, that the activities of these criminal organizations are transnational, and so too is the threat, which must be eradicated. Once accomplished, he suggested Mexico would be “an economic powerhouse.” In the interim, the General believes these transnational criminal organizations do not constitute an insurgency, as they do not wish to take over the government. However, he acknowledged these criminal forces do wish to exploit government, to gain economic advantage. Roundtable moderator and HSPI Director Frank Cilluffo agreed with the General on the issue of exploitation, but went further, and characterized the situation as a narco-insurgency, as the cartels continue to usurp governmental authorities. The two were also of like mind on what is the real coming issue, namely cross-domain (land, sea, air, and cyberspace) awareness, to maintain the safety of our forces.

Speaker Biography

LGen. Walter (Walt) Semianiw is the Commander of Canada Command, the organization charged with focussing the Canadian Forces on the defence and protection of Canada as its first priority. His career is marked and defined by several assignments in operations, and in staff appointments responsible for policies supporting the men and women of the military.

He enrolled in the Canadian Forces in 1982 and was commissioned as an infantry officer in the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (the PPCLI), and served in a variety of command and staff appointments with the 1st and 2nd Battalions, including a tour in Cyprus with the UN. He later commanded the 1st Battalion PPCLI, then based in Calgary.

LGen Semianiw has served at the Brigade, Area, Division, and Task Force levels in a variety of command and staff appointments at home and abroad. He was head of Army operations at National Defence Headquarters, served on the Joint Staff as Policy Coordinator, and with the Privy Council Office of Canada.

In 2005, he was responsible for Canadian Forces operations throughout South-West Asia including Afghanistan, during which time he supported the deployment of the Strategic Advisory Team to Kabul, the establishment of Canada's first Provincial Reconstruction Team to Kandahar, and the transfer of CF operations from Kabul to Kandahar.

On his return from Afghanistan, LGen Semianiw was appointed the Commandant of the Canadian Forces College in Toronto.

From 2007 to July 2010 he was the Assistant Chief Military Personnel and subsequently Chief Military Personnel, a period marked by significant improvements and enhancements to pay and personnel and family support programs, including for those physically and psychologically injured on operations.

He is a graduate of the Canadian Forces College, earning a Master of Arts in Military Studies, and a Master in Defence Studies. He has also completed the Joint Warfighter Component of the U.S. Military General/Flag Officer Capstone Programme, and the NATO General Officer's Course.

LGen Semianiw's awards include Commander of the Order of Military Merit, the Meritorious Service Cross, and the Order of St. John.

LGen Semianiw was born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario. He is married to Nancy (née Paradis) and they have two children.


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About HSPI's Ambassadors Roundtable Series

HSPI's Ambassadors Roundtable Series is designed to provide Ambassadors to the United States and their key diplomatic staff with a forum to discuss current and future counterterrorism and counterinsurgency efforts on a regional or country-specific basis. In an effort to draw upon various insights and experiences, the Ambassadors Roundtable Series builds upon and institutionalizes efforts over the past few years to engage in a dialogue with members of the international community, policy makers, and practitioners.