Canadian Armed Forces Danna Houssain Society, Culture, and Security

Canadian Armed Forces and Culture: The Need for Change

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is now several months into execution, and the conflict is unlikely to be resolved soon. The shocking events set in motion by Russia have highlighted NATO and Canadian security.  Canada, which played a significant role in Operation Unifier in Ukraine before the invasion, is facing questions about the structure and culture of its military. These issues have centered on a severe problem with Canadian Armed Forces military personnel retention and recruitment.

A study conducted by the CAF in 2016 showed a significant gap – 4200 – of trained personnel in its ranks. Furthermore, 2020 Canadian military data shows that only 0.06% of young Canadians (aged 17-34) enlisted. The CAF is also having issues with filling skilled positions and retaining personnel therein. The 2016 study noted that half of the reserve officers leave before completing their training.

The question that dogs this issue is “why.” It is worth pointing out that this question could also be asked from an intersectional framework, with the recruitment of women and people of colour. A survey found that the most common reasons for which personnel leave the military are lack of opportunities, civilian obligations, job satisfaction, issues with compensation and benefits, and family obligations. Furthermore, the Canadian military has recently come under fire for a string of sexual misconduct and harassment cases that has led to an overhaul of the CAF leadership.

A 2021 report, the Third Independent Review of the National Defence Act, by the Honourable Morris J. Fish, addresses structural issues within the Canadian military that need to change to improve overall satisfaction of personel with that organization. These include addressing sexual misconduct, having an external review process, and recommending changes to the military justice process.

The issue of Canadian military recruitment and retention cannot be easily solved. As demonstrated by the string of misconduct allegations in recent years, there is a problem with culture and leadership that is hopefully being addressed and corrected. The CAF has to ways to recruit more young Canadians to keep up with increased security threats. In a time marked by political and social unrest and the war in Ukraine, Canada needs to focus on strengthening defense, starting with recruitment and retention.

Image copyright: “Oh Canada” by Cris DiNoto via unsplash. 

Disclaimer: Any views or opinions expressed in articles are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the NATO Association of Canada.

Danna Houssian
Danna Houssian holds an M.A. in Political Science from Simon Fraser University, where she participated in the NATO Field School. She also has a B.A. in. Political Science from the University of Victoria. She is currently a J.D. candidate in the Dual Canadian and American J.D. program through the Univerisity of Windsor and Detroit Mercy School of Law.