Canadian military reports slowdown in recruiting as NATO ramps up deployment to Eastern Europe

The Canadian military reports about 7,600 members short of full strength – just as NATO is deploying more troops to Eastern Europe in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The latest figure was recorded on February 15 and shows a major shortfall in what the army calls its “trained and efficient force”. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has approximately 65,000 regular members.

“This is of course a number one priority for all of us, to ensure that readiness is not affected by our current trained and effective force,” the brigadier-general said. Simon Bernard, the military force reconstitution officer.

General Wayne Eyre, chief of the defense staff, said earlier this month that operational readiness is ‘one of the things that keeps me up at night’ as he outlined his plans to rebuild the military for an “increasingly dangerous future”.

Dry. General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday the alliance was deploying four more battlegroups to Slovakia, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria as a show of unity and strength in the face of Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine. . NATO leaders are expected to discuss whether to make the deployment permanent when they meet in Brussels on Thursday.

A “significant” shortfall

David Perry, president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the lack of CAF members is “significant”.

“[The military] always place the highest priority on operational engagements, including NATO, so short-term impacts are likely to be small,” Perry said. medium and long term. »

Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus, vice-president of the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association, said the shortfall is a ‘huge problem’ and raises questions about Canada’s ability to deploy the 3,400 troops currently on standby to join the NATO High Readiness Force.

“I think the government needs to change things quickly,” Hus said. “We have to recruit.

The military has seen its numbers dwindle during the pandemic and during its recent sexual misconduct crisis. Several senior male executives have been sidelined, investigated or forced into retirement in connection with allegations of sexual misconduct.

The military said it does not yet know how many members have left in response to the sexual misconduct allegations.

Decline in female recruits

Lieutenant General. Jennie Carignan was named the Army’s Chief Ethics and Culture Officer a year ago. She gave a briefing on Wednesday with the acting chief of military personnel, Major General. Lisa Bourgon.

“We’ve seen an impact, unfortunately. I wish I could tell you no, but we’ve seen an impact, and we need to work on it,” Bourgon said of the effect of sexual misconduct allegations on recruiting. . and retention.

Maj.-Gen. Lise Bourgon said the Canadian Armed Forces will adopt a gender-neutral dress code and relax rules prohibiting long or colored hair. (OP Impact/DND)

Bourgon said 71% of the military workforce is made up of “white males.”

“The bottom line … is that diversity improves readiness and, therefore, our operational effectiveness,” Bourgon said.

“As an organization, we must therefore attract, recruit, retain and develop talent representative of our Canadian society. The situation requires serious attention and clear leadership.”

Women, minority groups and indigenous members “continue to be underrepresented” in the military, she said.

Only 631 women joined the Canadian Armed Forces in the 2021-2022 fiscal year, about 15% of all new regular force recruits. The number of women registered during the year is the lowest since 2015-2016 and represents a decrease of 10% compared to the previous year.

In 2016, the military committed to increasing the number of women in uniform and is working to reach the goal of 25% of all military personnel by 2026.

CAF said it was taking steps to diversify forces. He said he adopted a gender-neutral dress code and relaxed rules prohibiting long hair and hair dyed in bright colors.

“This will be the first visual change in our culture shift,” Bourgon said. “We can no longer define our soldiers by short hair. Hair color and length does not define your quality as a soldier, airman and sailor. So this will be a great departure.”