Canada run­ning out of Cold War-era ri­fles for Rangers

SundayXtra - - CANADA / WORLD - By Steve Ren­nie

FORT SMITH, N.W.T. — Like any true col­lec­tor’s item, the Cold War- era ri­fles still used to­day by the Cana­dian Rangers come in their orig­i­nal boxes.

Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper was as­sured in a newly re­leased memo that the Lee En­field weapons, which were pur­chased in 1947, are in mint con­di­tion.

“While Rangers are given ri­fles in pris­tine con­di­tion (i.e. new from the box from spe­cial stor­age), Canada’s stock is di­min­ish­ing and a re­place­ment needs to be iden­ti­fied within the next four to five years,” says the memo, sent to Harper last Oc­to­ber and ob­tained by The Cana­dian Press un­der the Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion Act.

The prime min­is­ter, who is on his an­nual tour of the North, is no stranger to the ri­fles. Dur­ing last year’s visit, Harper fired off a few shots dur­ing tar­get prac­tice with the Rangers.

The Lee En­field ri­fles are stan­dard­is­sue weapons for the roughly 5,000 re­servists scat­tered across 200 com­mu­ni­ties who com­prise the Rangers. The weapons work well in the North be­cause they don’t freeze up or jam.

But the mil­i­tary has for years been try­ing to re­place them be­cause there are so few man­u­fac­tur­ers left who make spare parts for the ri­fles, first in­tro­duced to the Bri­tish Army in 1895.

Harper him­self has ac­knowl­edged the weapons should be re­placed.

“I am told there is no dif­fi­culty in ser­vic­ing the weapons at this time, but this is a con­cern and we be­lieve is it time,” he said a year ago in Hay River, N.W.T.

“The Depart­ment of Na­tional De­fence is in the process of scop­ing out the pro­gram for re­place­ment and I ex­pect that to hap­pen over the next few years.”

“It is im­por­tant to note that de­spite the date of man­u­fac­ture, ri­fle tech­nol­ogy has not changed sig­nif­i­cantly over the past 60 years and the re­place­ment ri­fle will likely be very sim­i­lar to the Lee En­field,” the memo states.

The Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice has said the gov­ern­ment plans to be­gin re­plac­ing the ri­fles in 2016.

In 2011, Public Works put out a call to com­pa­nies for spec­i­fi­ca­tions for 10,000 re­place­ment ri­fles, but de­fence in­dus­try sources have said that the pro­gram has been held up over con­cern about who holds the de­sign rights on cer­tain weapons.

The Cana­dian Forces did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to ques­tions about the ri­fles.

Harper con­tin­ued his an­nual tour of Canada’s North in Cam­bridge Bay, Nu­navut, Satur­day.

He took part in a ground­break­ing cer­e­mony for the Cana­dian High Arc­tic Re­search Sta­tion, which was first an­nounced in 2007 and is sched­uled to open in 2017.

The prime min­is­ter said he’s “look­ing for­ward to com­ing back and ac­tu­ally open­ing the doors to this place” in 2017 — which would be nearly two years af­ter the next fed­eral elec­tion, set for Oc­to­ber 2015.

— The Cana­dian Press

ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Stephen Harper and his wife Lau­reen stop in Cam­bridge Bay, Nu­navut, Satur­day.

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