Why doesn't the CF look like us?

The Montreal Gazette has a dramatic front page today, pointing to an inside feature by freelancer David Sachs. Sachs takes a look at the demographic makeup of the Canadian Forces and finds that the CF — mostly white and male — doesn't look like much like contemporary Canada and, given various projections, certainly won't look like Canada in the next decade or so. Right now, about 15 per cent of the Canadian population are visible minorities and, yet, just three per cent of CF members are visible minorities. That ratio's even worse when it comes to CF leadership. Not a single one of the 75 most senior generals and admirals in the CF, as of March 1, 2006, was a visible minority. And of the 14,235 men and women who were officers in the CF at that time, just 352 or 2.5 per cent were visible minorities. It gets worse looking at non-commissioned officers: There are 47,784 of them in the CF and just 863 or 1.8 per cent are visible minorites. (More on the officer class below). Sachs writes:

Beyond the implications for the maintenance and expansion of our armed forces, there are implications for public support of our military missions, and for the social cohesion of our nation. How far can a military diverge from the population it serves before it is seen as a mercenary force, or at least, a distinct military caste? How does the widespread lack of connection with our soldiers affect public opinion on military matters?

The piece is not necessarily a criticism of the CF; rather it explores some of the factors that have made the CF look the way it does today — Esprit de Corps publisher Scott Taylor figures 30 per cent of those serving now are from military families and are following dad's footsteps — and explores some of the ways the CF is trying attract more visible minorities, aboriginals, and women.

Notably, the piece quotes “Capt. Ken Charles, a national diversity officer and himself an immigrant from St. Lucia” to support this statement: “No soldiers or representatives of minority communities interviewed claimed that racism was in any way apparent in the Canadian military. Capt. Charles says the only incidence of racial bias he’s encountered in the military was on a visit to the United States, when someone there assumed he was a driver.”

Last year, I received a briefing note through an access-to-information request that had been prepared for then Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor by Vice-Admiral Greg Jarvis. Jarvis would retire a few months after filing this report but was, at the time, Chief of Military Personnel.

Jarvis found that, after general officers, the whitest group of officers in the CF are Air Force pilots. There are 1,952 pilot officers in the CF but just 24 or 1.2 per cent are visible minorities. Just 11 or 0.6 per cent of pilot officers are aboriginals, and 70 or 3.6 per cent are women.

It's not much better in the rest of the Air Force, so far as officers go. Of the 1,365 officers in Air Operations, just 23 or 1.7 per cent were visible minorities; 12 or 0.9 per cent were aboriginals; and 174 or 12.7 per cent were women.

Visible minorities are best represented among the officer class in “Engineering”, where, of the 833 officers, 40 or 4.8 per cent are visible minorities.

Among the non-comm officer class, the Military Police is the least diverse, with just 16 or 1.3 per cent visible minorities among the 1,245 non-commissioned officers. Non-commissioned officer musicians are the most diverse, with 9 or 3.9 per cent visible minorities among this group of 233.

3 thoughts on “Why doesn't the CF look like us?”

  1. Funny. Criticisms of the American military tend to emphasize the opposite, that minorities are over-represented. The reason for that is relatively simple; the American military is a workplace that is remarkably free of racism and seen as a shrewd career move by African-Americans most especially. If the CF is so lily-white, and the reason is not internal racism, what is the reason for it?

  2. Why is the CF so lilly-white? Because it's rural; race is just a symptomatic, dependent variable. The regional skew of the recruiting base is the issue. If everyone is who joins is from St. Johns, Prince Albert, or Rimouski, what do we expect? It's nice to talk about what “contemporary Canada” looks like, but outside the big cities where the immigrants are, contemporary is still a white and (on paper) Christian country.
    I work at NDHQ, where there are 8 officers in my Chain of Command between myself and the CDS: *2* are from Cape Breton. Only 1 is from Southern Ontario… me! In 7 years in the Navy, I can still count the fellow Torontonians I know on one hand – and those are all reservists at the unit there.
    Why? Partly because the labour market is tightest in the cities. But also because reserve units are the recruiting funnels, and there are far few per capita in the cities. For example, there's 1 Naval Reserve Division each in Toronto and… Sept Isle Quebec?? But none at all in Mississauga or Surrey – or even Laval? No reserve units, no local parades, no friends and classmates joining – no recruits.
    Finally, it's because we haven't had any ROTC-style officer programs at civilian universities since the 60s, so there is no military presence on any campus except for RMC itself. Since undergrad at RMC means a near total commitment to the CF (12 months a year for 9 years), the students most likely to take the plunge are the base-brats who've already spent their whole lives in that world, and know what they're getting into to.
    Conversely, since all our urban bases were closed (e.g. Downsview) urban youth have the least contact with the military. Culturally, they are raised to social liberalism: condescending to 'tradition' and emphasizing 'diversity' and 'self-expression'. This is the exact opposite of rural Canada – and of the military lifestyle. City kids are most likely to fear the conformity of military service, and least likely to embrace it.

  3. Capt. Charles is wrong both of US Army and the Canadian Army. ill-treatment of minorities in the CF is systemic. I hear or see no evil code of silence is rampant in CF, in some cases I think condoned by the leadership. Especially the infantry regiments like the PPCLI are worse than they appear. It is very unfortunate that so many dedicated visible minorities could not serve their country with respect and dignity they deserve. This is the reality of double burden in the CF today.

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