Wednesday, February 22, 2023

False Dichotomies And Canadian Defence

It is the season of false dichotomies as the pushback against culture change in the Canadian Armed Forces has begun.  Whether it is retired cranky dinosaur generals like Michel Maisonneuve or randos on twitter, folks have been claiming that this government has been too focused on culture change in the CAF and not enough on effectiveness/readiness/etc.  This presents reforming the CAF as a distraction, turning the focus away from preparing for the next war.  While it would have been fair to accuse the Trudeau government of being inattentive to defence before 2021, it is a serious mistake to suggest that the efforts to change CAF culture and institutions are a distraction.  

Instead, reforming the CAF is absolutely necessary for a ready, resilient, recruited, retained, effective military.  The culture of entitlement and abuse of power was not simply a minor thing that can be forgotten while one prepares to fight Russia or China.  Those dynamics have made the CAF less ready, less resilient, less effective.  It has driven out a heap of talented people who want to serve their country but in a functional organization where generals and admirals prioritize getting the most out of their subordinates, not getting into their pants and not giving their buddies breaks (Mulligan man named as chief of personnel, FFS!).  The morale problem in the CAF is not because men have been punished for abusing their power and abusing their subordinates, but because those men thrived.  If one distrusts one's commanders, that is not a recipe for an effective military.  

Changing the CAF culture means promoting people who treat their subordinates decently, people who are promoted on merit rather than by an old boy's network.  It means holding everyone to higher standards.  It means not tolerating hate within the forces--to get rid of misogynists, homophobes, white supremacists and other haters--as war is a team sport, and one can't have a good team if some members have contempt for the rest.  

There has long been much talk of what shapes unit cohesion and what harms it.  Unit cohesion was cited as a reason to keep Black soldiers/sailors/aviators segregated.  It was cited to keep women out of combat positions and out of the military entirely.  It was cited to keep LGBTQ2+ out.  But the real threat to unit cohesion was not the inclusion of these people but the reactions of those who could not tolerate having different people among them.  What the CAF needs is greater inclusion.

There is a major recruitment and retention crisis, and limiting the pool of potential recruits to straight white dudes means greatly reducing the talent available to the CAF and to Canada.  Changing the culture is necessary so that more people will join the CAF.  It is certainly true that culture change might alienate white supremacists and misogynists in the force, leading to a smaller military in the short term.  And if so, so be it--that the CAF may have to get smaller before it gets larger.  But better to recruit from all of the country (except the haters) than limit to 30-40% to protect the feelings of those who can't hang with those that are different.

I do have some qualms about CAF priorities and said so during this week's defence policy update engagement session--that domestic operations should not be a lagging fourth priority--but this government's focus on developing a military that submits to civilian control, that changes its institutions and dynamics to produce a stronger, smarter, more inclusive armed forces is exactly right.

 Anyone who says that one has to choose culture change or effectiveness understands neither.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Hateful Policies Work, Bill 21 Edition

It is actually pretty basic: if you pass a law that addresses a non-problem but harms a vulnerable minority, then you have no grounds to complain when other criticize you.  So, passing Bill 21 in Quebec, an Islamophobic and anti-semitic law, that didn't address an issue where there was a real problem makes those parties supporting it Islamophobic.  What was true when the proposed law was being discussed is even more true today as we see the seeds of hate producing the predicted fruit--violence and harassment of the vulnerable minorities.  When political parties and ultimately the government target groups, they are sending signals to the public to, yes, treat such groups worse.  Quebec's parties, by supporting this law, incited violence against its Muslim and Jewish communities (and probably Sikhs as well).  Intolerant laws don't breed tolerance.

This all, of course, is a product of ethnic outbidding where the various parties tried to compete with each other to rid the public square of religious symbols ... of minority groups.  These parties have agency as do those who vote for them.  Bill 21 basically said that religious minorities could not wear signifiers of their religion while working in provincial jobs--not just law enforcement officers and judges, but doctors, nurses, bus drivers, etc.  The public sector in Quebec is quite large, in part because most health care is delivered by the province.  So, this law affected a great number of people.  

Was there a study done to show how these folks wearing religious stuff was actually harmful?  Was the law designed to cover Catholics?  Not really.  Did it single out Muslims, Jews, and Sikhs?  Of course.  "We saw severe social stigmatization of Muslim women, marginalization of Muslim women and very disturbing declines in their sense of well-being, their ability to fulfil their aspirations, sense of safety, but also hope for the future."  Some folks claiming to be feminists said that the aim was to free Muslim women from having to wear hijabs.... how do they feel now that women have faced abuse and have their security threatened?  To be fair, men supported this legislation more than women, because, hey, why not another tool to dominate women, but many women supported this as well.

To be clear, it is not just that the folks who worked in the public sector were affected by this, which is bad enough.  It is also that the province sent a signal to the public that it was ok to discriminate against these groups, and the public heard this message.  So, all Muslims, Sikhs, and Jews are worse off now than a few years ago, whether they worked in the public sector or not. 

From the Association for Canadian Studies study

And, now, of course, Quebeckers are outraged.  Their parties and their politicians hate being called out for their racism, their xenophobia, their Islamophobia, and their anti-semitism.  The ire right now is aimed at Amira Elghawaby who was named Canada's first special representative on combating Islamophobia.  Why?  Because in 2019, she co-wrote a piece criticizing this awful law.  How dare a person appointed to combat hate against Muslims previously take a stand against a hateful law?

While the law is the most awful part about this, the grandstanding by Quebec politicians who claims to be victims is also pretty terrible.  It again goes to something very basic and now ritualized: those who engage in hateful behavior (Islamophobia, racism, anti-semitism, misogyny) find it more problematic to be called hateful than to be hateful.  It is worse to be called a racist than to do racism, for example.  

While this law was passed by a populist xenophobic party, other parties were part of the outbidding process, and now they are piling on Elghawaby to prove their nationalist credentials.

I left Quebec for a variety of reasons, but the awful discourse of the place was one of them.  That a people who suffered much discrimination and harm at the ends of an often insensitive majority have turned around and used their domination of provincial power centres to treat their minorities this badly again and again because it plays well in elections.  That again speaks not just to parties of Quebec, but to Quebec media who blow these stories up, and to the public that both these parties and the media pander.  To be clear, these dynamics exist elsewhere--Bill 21 was attractive to significant hunks of the Canadian public outside of Quebec--and the provincial leadership of many provinces suck mightily.  But the nationalist outbidding aimed at proving one's worth by targeting minorities is far more severe in Quebec.  And no one should call them out for it, of course.