Faculty member Brian Cassell is one of only a dozen across Canada to complete the Veteran Trainers to Eradicate the Use of Child Soldiers (VTECS) training program—part of Retired General/Senator Roméo Dallaire’s Child Soldier Initiative—and is introducing students to the topic in his Police and Justice Studies courses at TRU.
Cassell began his career at what was then the University College of the Cariboo in 2003, teaching the legal portion of an emergency dispatchers’ communications course, and quickly had the idea for a law enforcement preparation program. He wrote the program outline in 2005, signed on as instructor for four courses when the Police and Justice Studies (PJS) diploma program launched in 2007, and he’s been an integral part of this popular program ever since.
VTECS applicants provide a resumé of experience for consideration for enrolment, and are selected for their experience and teaching background. Cassell has an extensive history of teaching and curriculum development, having worked in education for various organizations and institutions since 1977. This background, and his extensive experience in the RCMP, where he served for 27 years before retiring, not only benefit his PJS students but also made him a strong candidate for the Dallaire Initiative training.
Candidates also need to have knowledge and experience of overseas operations, and his tenure as a Mountie included two such tours in a peacekeeper/teacher role: United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Amman Jordan.
“I would very much like to do some more overseas work. I would like to go to African countries to train the police and military people about the consequences of the use of child soldiers in war. I would like to participate in training here in Canada also,” said Cassell. “All military and police personnel going overseas to conduct peacekeeping missions from Canada go through pre-deployment training. I would very much like to participate in that as well.”
As one of a dozen retired and active police and military personnel to complete the VTECS program in July, Cassell’s cohort completed training to prepare police officers and soldiers for their deployment in countries actively using child soldiers. The three-month course blends two months of online learning—focusing on research and scenario-based situations—followed by a month of classes at Dalhousie University that employed classroom sessions and scenarios with actors portraying child soldiers and militants.
“There are no positive outcomes when encountering a child with a weapon. If the child soldier has a gun intent on shooting a police officer or a soldier, the police officer or soldier must shoot the child to protect his or her life, but has to live with the fact that they shot a child as young as eight-years old,” he said. “I would like to do what I can to prevent this, by getting the child soldier out of the life they have in a militia and helping police and soldiers learn how to help the child get out of their situation.”
Topics in the VTECS training included, but weren’t limited to: relevant international law, countries recruiting, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, intervening to get a child out of a situation, gender issues, recruitment techniques, roles of child soldiers, consequences of encountering a child with a weapon and instructional techniques on delivering the Dallaire Initiative’s teaching methods. At the end of the course, VTECS students were given the role of facilitators and evaluated by Dallaire Initiative staff to determine if they had become viable teaching and facilitation resources.
“The key component of any training for police and soldiers going to countries where children are being used as child soldiers is putting the rights of children in the forefront, following the rules of various conventions and international law,” he adds.
Cassell’s Police and Justice Studies students will get a window into his training this year, with the introduction of recruiting child soldiers and radicalism lessons to his Introduction to Policing course content.
He thinks these topics could be a full course in the diploma program someday, stressing that people need to know children are being recruited as soldiers into militant and extremist organizations from countries like Canada, Britain and the US. Police in particular, he says, need to be educated about recognizing the risk factors for children being recruited as soldiers:
“My students who will be graduating from the PJS program will have some background in this topic and will be prepared to recognize a child at risk of being recruited as a child soldier.”
In addition to providing valuable knowledge for his students at TRU, Cassell will be presenting to different groups in different capacities, as well as providing tactical, prevention-oriented training to security sector actors.
“Basically, I would like to do whatever is required to get the message about child soldiers out to police and military personnel.”