Canadian Forces Code of Conduct
with examples drawn from Regimental history

Much attention has been paid in the media to assorted criminal acts perpetrated in recent years by a small number of Canadian, British and American soldiers, in places like Somalia and Iraq.

Prospective recruits, their families, serving soldiers, and all Canadian citizens need to understand that the Canadian Army is bound by international law, as well as domestic law and several sets of rules and regulations governing their conduct.   The Canadian Army trains in strict accordance to the Canadian Forces Code of Conduct.  This Code, outlined below, represents the formalization of Canadian Army policy on the humane and legal conduct of military operations as it has evolved through the South African War, both World Wars, Korea, and other missions since 1945. 

The Calgary Highlanders have always trained to operate within the boundaries of civilized and legal conduct set out by various international bodies.  All soldiers of the Calgary Highlanders are expected to understand the code of conduct, and to take action should they encounter situations in which the code is being violated. 

Below is a summary, as outlined by Canadian Forces Publication "Dispatches: Lessons Learned for Soldiers, Volume 6 Number 2."  This pamphlet was written by Lieutenant Colonel Watkin, Captain P Drew and Captain R Paquin and released by the Army Lessons Learned Centre.  Large tracts of the text of this pam (which originally appeared as Canadian Forces training manual B-GJ-005-104/FP-023 produced by the Judge Advocate General) have been reproduced verbatim below. Historical examples, will illustrate that these issues have been of concern to the Regiment throughout its history.

The Law of Armed Conflict

The Law of Armed Conflict is the body of international law which sets out rules of behaviour in an armed conflict, sets out minimum standards applicable to the conduct of hostilities designed to limit unnecessary human suffering, ensures respect for human dignity, and facilitates the restoration of peace.

Canadian soldiers are not expected to know all the details of the various treaties and international customs that make up the Law of Armed Conflict.  Canada either respects, or is a signatory to, many different international agreements on the conduct of armed conflict, including:

The Hague Convention
The Geneva Convention
The Ottawa Convention (Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction)

The Law of Armed Conflict protects all victims of armed conflict, including the wounded, sick, and surrendered enemy combatants, as well as civilians.  Some of the laws respected by the Canadian Forces are the result of long standing custom, while others have been formalized by international treaty or agreement.

All Canadian soldiers are expected to know, understand, and observe the Law of Armed Conflict, and as a matter of policy, the CF will apply the spirit and principles of this Law in all operations outside of Canada.

Canadian soldiers are also subject to domestic legislation governing their conduct, including:

The Criminal Code of Canada
The National Defence Act

The obligation to obey the Canadian Forces Code of Conduct and the Law of Armed Conflict is a requirement under Canadian law. Violations by Canadian Forces personnel will be dealt with regardless of which side is successful.   Canada is committed to ensuring that its forces conduct their operations in compliance with the Law of Armed Conflict.  The Code of Service Discipline applies to CF members everywhere in the world, and there is never an exception to the obligation of a Canadian soldier to obey Canadian law, even when confronted with an opposing force which refuses to comply with the Law of Armed Conflict.

Soldier's Rules

The Law of Armed Conflict can be more easily remembered by breaking it down into Soldier's Rules.  These rules are simple, straightforward and easy to follow.  Every member of the Canadian Forces is obligated to know, understand, and obey them.

1) Engage Only Opposing Forces and Military Objectives

Rule 1 is the cornerstone of the Law of Armed Conflict.  Attacking non-hostile forces or objects not useful for military purposes is not only unlawful but also unsound from an operational point of view.   The military principles of "selection and maintenance of the aim" and "economy of effort" are both assisted by adherence to Rule 1, as it ensures that resources are properly used to accomplish missions.

Military Objectives - are those objects which make an effective contribution to military action due to their nature, location, purpose or use.  To be a military objective, the destruction or neutralization of the object must offer a definite military advantage to friendly operations.   Characteristics of military objectives will change depending on the type of mission - a bridge may be an important military objective in time of war, but not a military objective during a peace support operation.

Opposing Forces  - are any individuals or groups who pose a threat to friendly soldiers or the mission.  In an armed conflict, enemy forces are opposing forces regardless of whether or not they pose an immediate threat.  In peace support operations, persons (including civilians) must usually do more than simply possess weapons before being considered "opposing forces" and must also act in a threatening manner toward friendly soldiers or the property they are tasked to protect.

Bear in mind that the proper application of the Law of Armed Conflict does not prevent the use of force in the achievement of legitimate military objectives.

In the early evening, I had a visit from the (Dutch) postmaster, a distinguished man in a morning coat, silk hat, etc.   He explained that the Germans were concentrated in the post office which he did not want burned.  He wanted me to walk to the post office with a white flag and persuade them to surrender peacefully. 

I said "Fine, I'll tell you what I'll do, I'll walk down the street if you walk down the street."  He said, "Oh, no."

I told him I'd much sooner burn the post office (with our flamethrowers) than risk any Canadian lives and he left in a bad mood.  Next morning we attacked and the Germans tumbled out in a hurry to surrender.

Major "Sandy" Pearson
Officer Commanding
"B" Company
Groningen, The Netherlands, April 1945

2) In Accomplishing Your Mission, Use Only the Necessary Force That Causes the Least Amount of Collateral Civilian Damage

Rule 2 refers to the legal obligation to minimize harm to civilians and their property while completing assigned missions. 

Principle of Proportionality - imposes a duty to ensure that the collateral civilian damage caused is not excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.

Collateral Civilian Damage - refers to any injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects which are not part of an authorized target, resulting from the use of force.

It is recognized that the nature of armed conflict creates conditions in which injury will be unintentionally inflicted on civilians and their property.  All operations must be conducted in such a way that damage to civilians and their property is minimized.  This refers to both "friendly" civilians and "hostile" civilians.

In spite of the severe fighting...great crowds of (Dutch) civilians thronged the streets (of Groningen) - - apparently more excited than frightened by the sound of nearby rifle and machine-gun fire.   Out of regard for these civilians, the Canadians did not shell or bomb the city, thereby accepting the possibility of delay and additional casualties.

Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War
Volume III: The Victory Campaign: The Operations in North West Europe 1944-1945
Colonel C.P. Stacey

At right, a photo taken during the fighting in Groningen.  Note the Dutch civilians in the streets.

groningen2.jpg (25445 bytes)

One of our machine gunners set up his Bren gun in a kind of bay window in the front of the livingroom.  He had the bipod of the Bren resting on a small hardwood table and he was firing through the bay window at a German vehicle down towards the end of the street...(The lady of the house) must have been so bewildered that she wasn't really aware of what was going on around her.   Seeing this Bren gunner in the process of ruining her little hardwood table with his wretched Bren gun, she handed him a little cushion and asked him to put it under the legs of the gun, which he obligingly did.  Then she handed him a cup of coffee which he graciously accepted and then continued to fire on the German vehicle down the street.   Unbelievable!

Private Frank P. Holm
Company Signaller
"B" Company
Groningen, The Netherlands, April 1945

3) Do Not Alter Your Weapons Or Ammunition To Increase Suffering Or Use Unauthorized Weapons Or Ammunition

Rule 3 is based on both military and humanitarian principles.  The use of weapons or ammunition that cause unnecessary suffering is unlawful and is also contrary to the principle of war, selection and maintenance of the aim.

Authorized Ammunition and Weapons: All CF issued weapons are lawful.  The use of only CF issued weapons and ammunition ensures that there is no deviation from international standards.   Legal belt knives, jack knives and other such items are permitted so long as they are used only as tools.  Under no circumstances are soldiers permitted to bring on operations personal firearms, ammunition or other personal weapons listed as restricted or prohibited by Canadian law.

Regular inspections ensure that only authorized weapons are used.  It is prohibited to return to Canada from operational deployments with weapons or ammunition as "war trophies" and CF personnel attempting to return to Canada with such items will be prosecuted under Canadian criminal law, customs regulations and the Code of Service Discipline.  These items also pose a significant risk to aircraft and ships transporting troops.  And finally, Rule 8 prohibits looting for safety reasons as well as legal reasons.

Captured Weapons and Ammunition: may be required to be used in certain circumstances.  They may only be used if lawful weapons, and handling/disposal of captured weapons and ammunition will be covered in detail in operational standing orders.  Generally speaking, collection, security, transport and destruction of captured weapons and ammunition will be done by designated personnel.

Restrictions on the use of Lawful Weapons: do exist, to prevent the use of weapons to cause unnecessary suffering.  Booby traps, CS Gas, pepper spray and land mines other than anti-personnel types are all lawful, for example, but restricted to use in limited circumstances.

Brigadier Currie (commanding the 2nd Canadian Brigade) noted in his diary on 15 April (1915) "Attack expected at night to be preceded by the sending of poisonous gases to our lines..."  Word of the imminent gas attack was received with disbelief and puzzlement at Tenth Battalion headquarters.  "We didn't believe it," recalled Major Ormond.   "We couldn't imagine civilized people using it [poison gas].  After all, they were bound by The Hague Convention."

Gallant Canadians: The Story of the Tenth Canadian Infantry Battalion 1914-1919
Daniel G. Dancocks

Altered Weapons and Ammunition: are prohibited if the intent is to increase suffering.  "Unnecessary Suffering" is defined as the infliction of injuries beyond what is required to achieve the military aim.  The rule is not only a moral one but it is operationally advantageous based on reciprocity of treatment - the use of altered weapons may encourage opposing forces to do the same, or worse.

Prohibited Weapons and Ammunition: includes bullets designed to expand or flatten easily on contact with the human body (ie "dumdum" or hollow point bullets), poison or poison weapons, tracer rounds other than for marking, chemical weapons (excepting limited use of tear gar or pepper spray in peace support missions or for crowd control) and the use of anti-personnel mines that are not manually detonated (ie Claymore mines).

4) Treat All Civilians Humanely And Respect Civilian Property

Civilians who do not take part in hostilities must not be targeted.  They should also be respected and treated humanely in all circumstances.   Civilians should be treated the way that you would like your own family to be treated in the same circumstances.

Standard of Treatment: Military operations in foreign lands expose Canadian soldiers to civilian populations that are markedly different from our own.  However different or unusual a foreign land may appear, these civilians are, in all circumstances, entitled to respect for their persons and property, their honour, their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs. 

In daily interaction with civilian population, they must at all times be humanely treated and not subjected to acts of violence, threats or insults.   Women and children, in particular, must not be subjected to rape, enforced prostitution and any form of indecent assault.  All civilians must be treated with the same consideration and without any adverse distinction based in particular on race, religion or political opinion.

During my time with the Calgary Highlanders in action, I saw no atrocities or physical mistreatment of prisoners of war or civilians by Canadians.  The Canadian Army fought the German Army - - not the civilian population, and played an important part in the defeat of the Nazi war machine....Although I had been afraid most of the time and had endured many difficult periods, I came through relatively unharmed except for my nerves, and was glad to have had the experience.  I was proud of the accomplishments of the Canadian Army at this crucial time in history and was proud to have been a Canadian soldier.

Private Frank P. Holm
Company Signaller
"B" Company
September 1944-April 1945

Detention of Civilians: may on occasion be necessary as a result of actions on their part placing them in the category of "opposing forces."  For example, looters or other common criminals may need to be detained in order to protect military installations.  In certain circumstances, civilians who interfere with and prevent the CF from accomplishing the mission may also be detained when authorized by the ROE. These civilians become "detainees" and as such, shall be treated at least as well as any other detained persons (as under Rule 6)

Compliance with rule 4 is one important difference between a disciplined professional force and a band of marauders. Respect for the property rights of civilians, including civilians in the territory of the opposing force, requires discipline. Disobeying this rule could turn a civilian population against friendly forces, jeopardize entire missions and even prolong conflicts.  For that reason, every effort must be made to avoid alienating civilian populations. Reckless destruction of civilian property and disregard for personal ownership rights will place the overall military mission at risk as well as damage the reputation of Canada and its soldiers. Military necessity may sometimes require the destruction of some civilian property in order to conduct operations. This destruction should not be done needlessly. The wanton destruction, theft or confiscation of civilian property is prohibited and is an offence under the Code of Service Discipline.

The CF may purchase or requisition property and services from the local population but only for the use of our forces. Requisitioned material should always be paid for in cash, or a receipt should be provided which then should be honoured as soon as possible. Where requisitioning is authorized, appropriate procedures will be established and published.

5) Do Not Attack Those Who Surrender.  Disarm and Detain Them.

During armed conflict opposing forces who surrender have the status of Prisoners of War (PWs) while persons detained e during peace support operations are not usually considered PWs. Such detained persons are known as "detainees." The reason for the distinction is that Canada is not normally a party to an armed conflict when taking part in a peace support operation.

Those who surrender and who are no longer a threat must be protected and treated humanely. The "denial of quarter" is prohibited. In other words, it is unlawful to refuse to accept someone’s surrender or to order that no PWs or detainees will be taken. It is also illegal as well as operationally unsound to make threats to opposing forces that no PWs or detainees will be taken.

Anyone who wishes to surrender must clearly show an intention to do so (for example, hands up, throwing away his weapon, or showing a white flag). Remember that the showing of a white flag is not necessarily an expression of intent to surrender. Furthermore it is not necessarily applicable to all opposing forces in an area. The white flag can also mean that opposing forces wish to temporarily cease hostilities to talk or negotiate.

Those who wish to surrender should be dealt with cautiously until they are disarmed and are no longer a threat.

Disarming includes the search for and the taking away of equipment and documents of military value (for example, weapons, ammunition, maps, orders, code books, etc.). The following material must remain with the PW or detainee:

a. identification documents/discs;

b. clothing, items for personal use, or items used for feeding; and

c. items of personal protection (i.e., helmet, gas mask, flak jacket, etc.).

The evacuation of PWs or detainees should be organized and begin as rapidly as the tactical situation permits. While awaiting evacuation, they shall:

a. not be unnecessarily exposed to combat danger,

b. not be forced to engage in activities having a military character or purpose,

c. be protected against acts of violence, insults or intimidation and

d. be given any immediate first aid or medical attention necessary.

In recent years the nature of armed conflict as well as the nature of peace support operations have changed and those personnel opposing CF members will not always be in uniform, or even be members of an organized armed group. Regardless of whether your captive wears a uniform or civilian clothes the obligation to such person remains the same. In the case of doubt about the legal status of persons that you detain, those persons shall be treated like any other detained person and evacuated.

Restraint devices (such as handcuffs, shackles, flex-cuffs, tie-wraps, etc.) will only be used on a case by case basis where individual PWs or detainees represent an immediate threat. Those restraints will be removed as soon as the individual no longer poses a threat to security. In exceptional circumstances a PW or a detainee may be blindfolded for security purposes. However, in nearly all cases the nature of the operation and the lack of an opportunity to escape will mean there is no requirement to even consider the use of a blindfold. The Law of Armed Conflict permits the use of force to prevent the escape of PWs. In the case of detainees, however, force may only be used to stop an escape where it is authorized in the operation's Rules of Engagement.

pow.jpg (52336 bytes)
Company Sergeant Major Harold Omar "Swede" Larson, holder of the Military Cross (an exceptionally rare award for a non-commissioned officer), goes through the pockets of surrendered German soldiers near Doetinchem, 1 April 1945.  Prisoners must be permitted to retain basic survival gear, including winter coats like those shown here, and may also include basic items such as water bottles and helmets. However, lethal force may also be used to prevent their escape.   At right, another Calgary Highlander covers the prisoners with a Bren light machine gun.
Photo - Public Archives of Canada PA 131699 (Lieutenant M.M. Dean)

6) Treat All Detained Persons Humanely In Accordance With The Standard Set by the Third Geneva Convention.  Any Form of Abuse, Including Torture, is Prohibited.

Rule 6 deals with the treatment of anyone detained by CF personnel in the course of an operation. At the tactical level, the legal status of those who are detained does not matter. All persons held by CF personnel without their consent, both PWs and detainees, shall be treated in accordance with the standard set by the Third Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War.

It is a legal obligation for PWs to be treated in accordance with the Third Convention. The CF will also apply the Third Convention to detainees because it represents a high level of protection for those persons. From an operational perspective it is also advantageous in that CF personnel need only be trained to one set of rules for the treatment of persons held under their control.

The primary reasons for which members of the CF may be called upon to detain individuals in the course of an operation are to prevent their further participation in a conflict or, when authorized, to prevent them from interfering with the military mission. The reason for captivity is never related to revenge or punishment. The concept of humane treatment toward those under your control and the standard of treatment which applies to all detained persons, without adverse distinction based on race, nationality, sex, religious belief or political opinion, is a long standing rule.

Over and above existing individual responsibilities, any person detained by CF members becomes the responsibility of Canada for the treatment given to them from the time of capture until their final release. Detained persons will be handed over to the military police as soon as possible. Their transfer to local authorities or evacuation through the appropriate channel, depending on the circumstances, shall be organized and start as rapidly as the tactical situation permits.

Humane treatment includes not only the proper provision of the necessities of life but also the type of treatment provided to detained persons. PWs and detainees must at all times be protected against insults and public curiosity. Detained persons shall be treated with all due regard to their gender. Searches will be conducted by persons of the same sex unless, in exceptional circumstances, they have to be conducted by a member of the opposite sex. Searches conducted by members of the opposite sex will be carried out in a respectful manner. PWs and detainees will be allowed to retain all personal effects and articles, as well as their metal helmets, gas masks, feeding utensils and articles of personal protection. Their weapons, such as other military equipment, military documents can be removed. Only an officer may order the removal of sums of money and valuables for safekeeping. If such action is taken, a receipt must be issued and the details recorded in a special register.

In accordance with the United Nations Convention Against Torture, Canada has the obligation to set out in the Code of Conduct the prohibition against any form of torture. It is a service and a criminal offence to torture a PW or detained person. Any form of physical or psychological abuse is prohibited. In addition, following the Third Geneva Convention, all PWs must be protected against acts of violence, insults or intimidation. By national direction, all detainees must also be protected against acts of violence, insults or intimidation.

Food and water:  will be provided as soon as is feasible and will not be arbitrarily or unreasonably withheld. For example, if CF personnel are scheduled to eat at a certain time, PWs and detainees will be allowed to eat at that time as well. More timely provision of food and water may be medically necessary due to climatic conditions. Detained persons will be provided shelter from both the elements and hostile action to the same extent as is available to CF personnel. For the provision of food, water and shelter, the idea is not to treat PWs or detainees better than CF members but to treat them at least as well.

Protection and Medical Care: Detained persons must be protected from the effect of hostilities. In the presence of an NBC threat for example, PWs and detainees must be allowed to use their protective gear. If they don’t have any, they should be provided with the necessary gear where this is practically possible. Similarly, if there is a risk of indirect fire and shelling, detained persons will be allowed to use their protective gear. Again if they don’t have any, they should be provided with the necessary gear where this is practically possible.

Every PW and detainee should be given a medical examination as soon as practicable after capture and the condition of each person shall be recorded. All detained persons shall be afforded the necessary medical care.

A patrol of scouts was sent out and contacted a hospital filled with German wounded being cared for by their own staff. A guard was laid on to protect them from their (Dutch) civilian tormentors. It was considered too bad that they could not observe the Geneva Convention as quickly as they appealed to it.

Calgary Highlanders War Diary
Groningen, The Netherlands, 17 April 1945

Questioning and Interrogation: Any PW or detainee who is questioned need only give his or her full name and rank, date of birth, and service number or equivalent information. That information is necessary in order to properly administer the detained person. If a PW or detainee refuses to provide this information, no action will be taken beyond making note of the refusal. At this stage CF members will not interrogate or ask for any information beyond the above-mentioned particulars.

The interrogation or debriefing of detainees may only be conducted by qualified personnel such as intelligence personnel in accordance with the relevant UN, coalition or national direction. Where interrogation or debriefing is conducted by qualified and authorized personnel, no physical or mental torture, or any other form of coercion, shall be inflicted on PWs or detainees to force them to provide information of any kind. Detained persons who refuse to answer shall not be threatened, insulted or exposed to unpleasant or ill-treatment of any kind.

Reprisals will not be taken against PWs or detainees. Similarly, they will not be used as "human shields" to protect military objectives or cover military operations. CF personnel will treat detained persons properly regardless of how CF personnel may have been treated while in the hands of opposing forces.

Next morning I had visit the signals personnel at Battalion HQ.  They were on the ground floor of a small building just down the street (in Goes) not too far away.  As I entered the main door I saw only one person and this startled me.  It was a German soldier - - green uniform, jackboots, field cap, no weapons, no equipment - - just sitting halfway up the steps leading to the second floor, with a bored smile on his face....(He) saw that I was taken aback (and) said: "Don't worry; they know I'm here" in English with a slow southern American drawl....(He) was born in the United States of German parents.  They lived in Georgia...(and) had travelled to Germany...for a visit just before the war broke out and he couldn't get back.  He was drafted into the German Wehrmacht and now he had found the opportunity to give himself up to the Canadians.

Private Frank P. Holm
Company Signaller
"B" Company
October 1944

7) Collect All the Wounded and Sick and Provide them with the Treatment Required by their Condition, whether Friend or Foe.

All the wounded and sick, whether friend or foe, shall be respected and protected. In all circumstances they shall be treated humanely and shall receive, to the fullest extent practicable and with the least possible delay, the medical care and attention required by their condition. There shall be no distinction among them based on any grounds other than medical ones.

Members of opposing forces who have been rendered unconscious or are otherwise incapacitated by wounds or sickness, and therefore are incapable of defending themselves shall not be made the object of attack provided that they abstain from any hostile act. They shall be treated as PWs or detainees as appropriate, but they will be evacuated through the medical services to allow for proper medical treatment. Guards may have to be provided while such detained persons undergo medical treatment.

Following an engagement, Canadian soldiers have an obligation, without delay, to take all possible measures to search for and collect the wounded and sick from all sides, opposing forces or not, as well as civilians. It is understood however that this obligation only comes into play once the area has been secured. This includes the obligation to protect them against theft and ill-treatment and to ensure their adequate care. There is also an obligation to search for, protect and pay proper respect for the dead. Whenever circumstances permit, a suspension of fire shall be arranged or local arrangements made to permit the removal of the sick, wounded and dead, and the exchange and transport of the wounded and sick.

Only medical reasons will determine the priority of treatment. Therefore, there will be circumstances where a member of opposing forces will have to be treated before a Canadian soldier. Such professional behaviour increases the likelihood that wounded CF personnel in the hands of the opposing forces will be treated as quickly as possible and as their medical condition requires. Moreover, the sick and wounded who abstain from hostile acts are no longer opposing forces and are entitled to protection. Where it is necessary to abandon wounded and sick personnel to opposing forces there is a requirement, as far as military considerations permit, to leave with them medical personnel to provide appropriate care.

....back at the Prisoner of War cage, I saw something which impressed me.  A soldier from the South Saskatchewan Regiment was standing with his arm over the shoulder of a German prisoner, talking to (a Military Policeman) in charge of the cage.  It seems that the German was a stretcher bearer who had gone out into no-man's-land to tend to (a South Saskatchewan Regiment) officer who had been wounded.  He took him to the Canadian side but then was taken prisoner.  The SSR soldier was pleading with the MP to allow the German to go back to his unit... It was inspiring to see men on both sides of the conflict showing compassion for one another instead of hate.

Private Frank P. Holm
Company Signaller
"B" Company
February 1945

The burial or cremation of the dead should be carried out individually as far as circumstances permit. Burial must be preceded by a careful examination, and if possible, by a medical examination of the bodies in order to confirm death, establish identity and make appropriate reports. One half of the double identity disc, or the identity disc itself if it is a single disc, should remain with the body. Bodies must not be cremated except for imperative reasons of hygiene or because of the religion of the deceased. Reasons for cremation must be recorded. The dead shall be honourably interred, and if possible accorded the rites of the religion to which the deceased belonged.

8) Looting is Prohibited

The taking of personal war trophies is prohibited.   Battlefields and destroyed civilian areas offer attractive objects for the curiosity seeker.  There is a significant risk that such property may be booby-trapped.  No matter how tempting such objects may be, the taking of souvenirs is prohibited.  The personal property of sick and wounded, detained persons, and the dead shall not be taken.  Looting is theft.  Not only is looting illegal, but even an isolated act of theft may impede a mission by turning local populace against friendly soldiers.

Property belonging to Opposing Forces may, in some circumstances, be permitted to be seized and used.  Such use must be properly authorized by the chain of command, and such use may never be for the personal benefit of individual Canadian Forces personnel.

Now, "looting" a prisoner usually meant taking his wrist watch as a trophy.  It was forbidden by the King's Regulations of Canada...I was in the process of checking the little garden behind the house that company headquarters was occupying at this time....(A Dutch civilian) beckoned to me...I saw that she was too frightened and upset to speak but as I approached she pointed to a German soldier lying on the garden walkway leading to her back door.  I checked him and found he was limp and lifeless but still warm.  He was an officer.  I...checked his billfold.  From it I took a few reichsmarks, which I didn't think he would be able to spend anyway.  I didn't feel comfortable afterwards about what I had done...there is no use glossing over the fact I had looted a dead German.  It was the first (and last) time I had done that and I had been in the front lines for six and a half months at this point.

Private Frank P. Holm
Company Signaller
"B" Company
Groningen, The Netherlands, April 1945

9) Respect All Cultural Objects (Museums, Monuments, etc.) and Places of Worship

Peace becomes more difficult to secure when a people's religion or culture is not respected.  As a general rule, buildings and property dedicated to cultural or religious purposes must not be attacked.  We must do our best to ensure that these buildings, or their contents, are not destroyed, damaged or stolen.  The destruction, desecration, or interference with, cultural and religious objects and places of worship can only serve to adversely affect friendly forces and possibly prolong any conflict.  Failure to honour this rule often results in retaliation in kind.

Religious and Cultural Objects - are usually obvious to identify.  Churches, mosques, synagogues, cemeteries, monasteries, temples and other places of religious significance are protected.   Cultural objects are not as obvious to identify, and represent those things of great importance to the cultural heritage of a people, such as monuments, archaeological sites, archives, buildings, manuscripts, works of art, large libraries, etc.  These objects are protected.

Disinguishing Cultural and Religious Objects - may be done through use of internationally recognized signs, as illustrated below.  Not all cultural or religious property will be marked in areas of conflict - and all such property must be respected whether signed or not.

cultur.gif (1184 bytes)

Some cultural and religious locatons may be marked with a distinctive blue and white sign as illustrated at left. 

Other sites which should not be made targets - may also be marked by internationally recognized signs as illustrated below.  Not all such sites will be marked in areas of conflict - and all such property must be respected whether signed or not.

airraid.gif (1069 bytes)

Civilian protection installations such as bomb shelters or fire halls may be marked with a blue triangle symbol on a red square.

hospital.gif (1032 bytes)

Neutral, safety or hospital zones may be marked with a diagonal red stripe on a white square.

nuclear.gif (1029 bytes)

Installations which, if damaged, could release dangerous forces such as a dam, dyke or nuclear electrical generating station, may be marked with three red circles.

camp.gif (1041 bytes)

Internment or refugee camps may also be marked with conspicuous signs.

Extent of Protection - if cultural or religious property is used for military purposes, it loses its protection from the opposing forces under the Law of Armed Conflict.  If an opposing force uses such a site for military purposes, it becomes a legitimate military target.  The Principle of Proportionality discussed above applies with particular importance in this case.   Where possible, enemy forces must be warned against using cultural or religious sites for military purposes before an attack; if the opposing force persists, attacks by CF personnel must be done so as to minimize risk to those personnel while at the same time using the minimum force necessary to accomplish the mission.

vimymemorial.jpg (41865 bytes) vimy.jpg (22704 bytes)

In 1936, the Vimy Memorial was unveiled in France (above left), on ground granted by France to Canada "in perpetuity."  The Tenth Battalion, forerunners of the Calgary Highlanders, participated in the battle to seize the Ridge in April 1917.  The monument itself towers over the Douai Plain, and some of the trenches and tunnels occupied by the Canadians at the start of the battle have been preserved.

The Third Reich was notorious for plundering cultural artifacts and destroying enemy civilian property (a notable example being the railway carriage in which the Germans signed the terms of surrender in November 1918).  In June 1940, Adolf Hitler himself toured the Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge (he is pictured at extreme left of the upper right photo, with a preserved Canadian trench in the foreground), and though in 1944 he would order the destruction of the City of Paris without qualm, in 1940 he spared the Canadian Vimy Memorial. 

Photo at left - National Archives of Canada PA 183544
Photo at right - from After the Battle Magazine, Number 109

10) Respect All Persons and Objects Bearing the Red Cross/Red Crescent and Other Recognized Symbols of Humanitarian Agencies

redcross.gif (1947 bytes)

International law provides special protection to personnel and facilities displaying the Red Cross or the Red Crescent.  Medical personnel and their medical facilities/buildings and transport displaying these distinctive emblems must not be attacked.  Recognizing and respecting these distinctive emblems enhances the likelihood that forces in opposition to CF personnel will also respect our own personnel and facilities, including the sick and wounded.

redcrescent.gif (3138 bytes)

The Red Cross is a protected symbol that is often misunderstood.  According to the Red Cross Society of Canada, the symbol does not symbolize only medical personnel/facilities but is in fact the international symbol for "Don't Shoot."  It is illegal to use the Red Cross symbol in commercial products, including first aid kits, as it is felt that overuse of this symbol will diminish its importance in areas of conflict where its meaning needs to be crystal clear.

Permanent Medical Personnel: include doctors, nurses, and medical assistants exclusively engaged in the collection, transport or treatment of the sick and wounded.  Also included are those who are engaged exclusively in the prevention of disease, staff engaged exclusively in the administration of medical units and establishments, and chaplains of the armed forces.   All permanent medical personnel must wear an armband displaying the Red Cross/Red Crescent and carry an appropriate identity card distinguishing them as such.  Medical personnel will under no circumstance be attacked.  If captured, permanent medical personnel and chaplains, although detained, will continue to care for their sick and wounded.  If there is no such medical requirement, they are to be released and returned to their own forces.

Temporary Medical Personnel: include soldiers employed on a part time basis, such as hospital orderlies or temporary stretcher-bearers used to collect, transport and care for the sick and wounded.  Temporary medical personnel are not to be attacked.  They are distinguished by the use of smaller armbands and emblems; if captured they may be employed in medical duties, but they do not have to be released to their own side if there is no requirement for their medical services.

About October 9th (1944), a German infantryman called for help across the street (in Hoogerheide).... In the basement with us were a handful of his buddies, who totally fatigued and depressed said that they are not going out there again. Then to my horror, my fellow artillery observer, Friedel Steinmeier, said: "OK, then I (will) get him!" And he did! Except for his helmet, he took all his gear off and calmly walked across the open field straight to the wounded man, loaded him on his back and carried him to safety. - I was very impressed that the Canadians held their fire.  (A few days later) I returned the favor.

On October 13, the Canadians were pounding us in preparations for their attack. (The same) house was shot into rubble, leaving only the chimney. However, we stuck it out in the cellar. At dusk it was my turn to go up on watch. With a field telephone and binoculars, I climbed up the chimney and saw what seemed to be several officers looking over this bunker with binoculars and having maps before them. I called (whispered) for a single high velocity artillery round. (A straight shot that gives nobody time to duck). It was right on target and I saw a steel helmet flying like a Frisbee. A few minutes later a van came and men ran towards the bunker. It was getting dark and I couldn’t tell who they were, but I assumed they were medics and thus I refrained from further shelling of the area.

Ernst Knolle
German Artillery soldier
Hoogerheide, The Netherlands, October 1944

Arming of Medical Personnel: Perhaps the largest misconception surrounding medical personnel is that they are not permitted to carry weapons.  Under international law, medical personnel may be armed with side arms, and are permitted to use them in the defence of themselves and the sick and wounded under their care.  Pickets or sentries made up of non-medical personnel may also be equipped with small arms and used without adversely affecting the protected status of the medical establishment or unit.

Medical Units and Establishments: may consist of fixed or mobile units or establishments and are not to be attacked.  Protection provided to medical establishments and units shall only cease if they are used for purposes outside their humanitarian duties, and even then, only after due warning and a reasonable amount of time elapsing without the warning being heeded.  Medical units and establishments should be cited so that attacks on legitimate military targets will not endanger them.   The Red Cross/Red Crescent should only be used on medical units or establishments entitled to protection under the Geneva Convention.

Medical Transport: Opposing forces' transports for the wounded and sick, or of medical equipment, shall not be targetted once identified as such and are protected in the same manner as mobile medical units.  If captured, the wounded and sick in the transports will be properly cared for.  Ambulances and other vehicles bearing the Red Cross emblem must not be used to transport ammunition or weapons nor shall they be used to convey troops across the battlefield.

International Committee of the Red Cross: is an independent humanitarian institution first formed in 1863 that has a special role under the Law of Armed Conflict.  The ICRC acts as a netural intermediary and endeavours, on its own initiative, to bring protection and assistance to the victims of armed conflict.  At times, this may include caring for the wounded and sick.

icrc.gif (1791 bytes)

redcross1.jpg (24281 bytes)
Second World War Red Cross Parcel. Public Archives of Canada Photo.

So far as they could, ...Canadian prisoners subsisted on parcels sent from home and from the Red Cross.   Thanks to the neutral nations, postal services connected the belligerents.  In 1914, the first public reports of suffering in the German (prisoner of war) camps initiated a flow of food parcels that continued throughout the war.  Begun as a typically private response to need, by 1916 it had developed into an official Red Cross function...British medical authorities designed four standard, nutritionally balanced packages, and the Red Cross undertook to deliver three ten-pound parcels to each prisoner every two weeks.  Each month, a prisoner received a half-pound tin of tobacco and 250 cigarettes; every six months he got a supply of clothing, and annually a new overcoat.   A British woman...organized bakeries in Switzerland and later in Denmark to deliver loaves of white bread to British and Canadian prisoners....Almost every prisoner recognized that the parcels were life-savers.

When Your Number's Up: The Canadian Soldier in the First World War
Desmond Morton

Non-Governmental Organizations: (NGOs) are also dedicated to alleviating the suffering of the victims of armed conflict.  Additionally, UN organizations as well as local civilians may be engaged in the collection and care of the sick and wounded, under the direction of local military authorities.  NGOs do not benefit from international legal protection, nonetheless, their work is to be respected.

Improper Use of the Distinctive Emblems and Perfidy: False and improper use of the Red Cross/Red Crescent is prohibited.  This includes such acts as using ambulances to move troops or ammunition.  Committing a hostile act under the cover of the protection provided by the distinctive emblems would constitute perfidy.  Perfidy is a war crime.  The use of camouflage and other deceptions are considered legitimate ruses.  The camouflage of medical facilities is not prohibited, however, it does increase the risk that the facility may not be recognized as a medical installation.  

11) Report and Take Appropriate Steps to Stop Breaches of the Law of Armed Conflict and these Rules.   Disobedience of the Law of Armed Conflict is a Crime.

It is Canadian Forces policy to respect and abide by the Law of Armed Conflict in all circumstances.  To meet this commitment, every CF member must know and understand, as a minimum, the basic principles of the Law of Armed Conflict.   It is of the utmost importance that a breach of any provision of the Law of Armed Conflict or the Code of Conduct be reported without delay.

Superior Orders: and obedience to them are the basis of military effectiveness.  All orders received from superiors should be lawful, straightforward and require little clarification.  If, however, a Canadian soldier receives an order from a superior that they believe to be questionable, their first step is to seek clarification.  If after doing so the order still appears to be questionable, in accordance with military regulation, the order should still be obeyed unless that order is manifestly unlawful.

Manifestly Unlawful Orders: are defined as those which shock the conscience of every reasonable, right-thinking person.  Every member of the Canadian Forces, regardless of rank or position, has an obligation to disobey a manifestly unlawful order.

An order which contradicts the Law of Armed Conflict or the Code of Conduct is unlawful.  For example, mistreating someone who has surrendered, beating a detainee, moving ammunition in an ambulance are all unlawful.  It is recognized that the lower one is in rank, the more difficult it will be to question orders.  Remember that a soldier charged with carrying out a manifestly unlawful order can not use as a defence the claim that they were only following orders.    This is why leaders have an obligation to provide clear, lawful commands.   The issuance of a manifestly unlawful order is a crime in itself.

Leadership and Discipline:  Good leaders do not issue manifestly unlawful commands; they give clear orders that will not be misunderstood.   Disciplined soldiers do not commit war crimes or breach the Law of Armed Conflict.   They understand the nature of a lawful command and are conscious that they must carry out their orders in a manner consistent with the law and the goal of their overall mission.

It might appear that a momentary advantage may be gained from a breach of the Law of Armed Conflict or the Code of Conduct.  However, experience has shown that even a momentary lapse in duty may dishonour Canada and also adversely affect the accomplishment of the overall mission.

Breach of the Law of Armed Conflict or the Code of Conduct: must be stopped, if possible, or reported once it has occurred.  If any CF member feels the Law of Armed Conflict or these 11 rules are being breached, they must take the appropriate steps to stop the illegal action.  If not in a position to stop the breach, the soldier shall report to the nearest military authority that can take appropriate action.  It is recognized this may be difficult, especially for junior ranking soldiers, however, there is always a way to report a breach, either to their own superiors in the chain of command, to the military police, a chaplain, a legal officer, or any other person in authority.  Any attempt to cover up a breach of the Law of Armed Conflict or these rules is in itself an offence under the Code of Service Discipline.  Experience has shown that isolated breaches committed by a few members of the CF, even a momentary lapse of one's duty, can dishonour the entire nation and adversely affect the accomplishment of the overall mission.


While the Canadian Forces Code of Conduct and the Law of Armed Conflict are relatively new, they are really formalizations of standards that have been officially and unofficially practiced by the Regiment since its inception.   The historical examples above will show that The Calgary Highlanders have faithfully served Canada with honour, and that the values and ideals that guided the writing of the 11 Soldier's Rules have always been the cornerstones of professional soldiers in the Canadian Army.  As can also be seen, when one side commits to high standards of conduct, it encourages the "enemy" or opposing forces to also consider adopting similar standards.

The use of lethal force is an awesome responsibility, and the Canadian Armed Forces is the only institution in Canada with permission to use it in the normal course of its duties.  That responsibility is not taken lightly.  With extreme responsibility often comes dire stress; this stress is relieved through the use of clear guidelines such as the 11 Soldier's Rules.  The very rare incidence of unfortunate episodes of breaches of these rules, in not only allied armies but also our own Canadian Army, must be seen as just that - anomalies in an overall picture of professional training and conduct that has spanned a century of overseas missions in both peace and war.

The stresses in which members of the Regiment have served since 1914 are impossible to relate via the printed word.  The final quote by a well respected officer of the Regiment stands as testimony to the types of decisions that have to be made in war, and are a grim reminder that the survivors must live with the consequences of their actions.

Ahead of us, a German was running away and I decided to let him go.  I didn't want to shoot the poor devil but then he turned back and picked something up.  I thought that it must be pretty valuable and that if he was that serious about it, we probably needed it more than he did.   I gave him the works (with a tank mounted machine gun) and told the tank commander to stop.  In the German's hand was a tin can with a swastika on it, used to collect coins for the war effort.  And that had cost him his life!

Captain Mark Tennant
Officer Commanding

Support Company
Belgium, September 1944


The information on this website is intended for a specific audience within a defined geographic area and therefore all content appears in English only.