Yesterday, news broke that the Canadian Armed Forces will be open to permanent residents. I had heard rumors of this at the recent Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society-Canada conference which had a bunch of people from CAF Personnel, the Culture and Professional Conduct Command, the Director General for Military Personnel Research and Analysis and more.
This is such a no-brainer I have been advocating for it and more (see below) for the past few years. It would make sense even if the military was not down at least 10,000 and facing a real personnel/recruiting/retention crisis. How so? Let me listicle:
- One of the basics of any kind of recruiting is you want as deep and as wide a pool as possible so that you can then get picky and be selective.
- New immigrants will have language skills that the CAF will need as it engages in expeditions around the world.
- Diversity, yes, is a good unto its own. Having diverse perspectives facilitates greater creativity, more constructive criticism, less adherence to outdated ideas. There is actually a good bit of social science behind this.
- The CAF needs change to its culture as the sexual misconduct and abuse of power crisis has amply demonstrated. One way to change a culture is to stop depending on the same groups for one's recruits. A key scandal illustrates this nice. Several years ago, some of the cadets at the Royal Military College verbally harassed visiting youngesters who were in cadet programs that could have led them to the RMC. When an officer called out the harassment and punished the offending cadets, they called their parents who apparently included senior officers who then got the officer punished instead of the cadets. So, the CAF (and other militaries) have long depended on military families, which has its benefits, but also create a sense of entitlement which then breeds the abuse of power. Is it an accident that Jon Vance who abused his power long before he became Chief of Defence Staff is the son of a Lieutenant General and former Vice Chief? Hmmm.
And then there is the current personnel shortage. Which makes the obvious more obvious. Why resist the obvious? Some will argue that there is a risk that the permanent residents are not real citizens and are not as loyal to their country than actual citizens. Um, have you taken a look at the greatest threat to Canadian security these days? That would be far right extremists/white supremacists. They are citizens, but their loyalty is not to democracy, good governance, and all that stuff. Including more permanent residents, who are more likely to have non-European backgrounds than the traditional recruiting pools, will have the added benefits of bringing in people who are less likely to be white supremacists and are more likely to antagonize those far right extremists who are in the CAF--making them easier to identify and also perhaps driving them out.
Why else resist the obvious? I always heard that security clearances were a hurdle--that it is hard to get the info needed about those who lived elsewhere. Hard is not a good enough reason to deny access to a huge pool of potential recruits. How risky is it to have less than completely vetted people in the first few jobs in the military? How much of a threat do they pose to secrets as new recruits? It is also the case that the vetting can continue (and should continue) as they serve. And as a general told me recently, there is always risk--you just have to figure out ways to mitigate it.
Oh, and some folks in the CAF and in the political system may not want to include these "others" because they are "others"--that they want to keep the CAF an old boys network and they want to keep it the very white institution it has been. The less satisfied these folks are, the better.
I have been arguing that the CAF should go further, and this would require legislation: make service in the CAF a pathway to citizenship. Encourage folks from other countries to come to Canada and then get permanent residency and then citizenship faster/easier if they serve in the military. There are some criticisms one can lodge here
- that the CAF isn't special and we should do the same kind of thing for other needed professions (such as medical ones)
- that this is exploitative of other places and somewhat colonial/imperial
- that the security clearance thing would be harder still
Yes, the CAF may have to get smaller before it gets larger, as the CDS has acknowledged. But it is both good for the numbers and good for the health of the CAF and of civil-military relations to have a military that looks like the society. Given that something like 25% of Canadians were born abroad, it is time we make the military a more welcoming place for the newer Canadians.