Canada’s military scores a number of firsts

July 5, 2017 by Stephen J. Thorne
A Canadian sniper during Operation Exercise Iron Sword in Lithuania with NATO allies.

June 2017 was a pretty good month for Canada’s military.

First there was the defence policy review, released June 7 after a year-long consultation process.

The document did not come up with sure-fire solutions to longstanding issues plaguing military procurement, but it did propose a comprehensive, long-term spending plan palatable to enough of the usual critics that it just might stick.

The government linked the plan to a new foreign-policy statement that essentially declared American world leadership no longer reliable and asserted the need for Canada to chart its own course, backed by a strong military.

Then there were two individual accomplishments that suggest just the kind of military Canada is likely to maintain.

News leaked out in mid-June that a Canadian sniper in Iraq shattered the world record for the longest confirmed kill shot in military history, at 3,540 metres. The shot was actually made in May and, according to the Department of National Defence, helped fend off an impending attack on Iraqi security forces.

Three of the last four military sniper records have been held by Canadians and this one, by a member of the Joint Task Force 2 special forces unit, obliterated the previous mark of 2,475 metres, held by a Briton.

“I am extremely honoured to have the privilege of commanding one of the five Queen’s Guards here in the United Kingdom. Celebrating Canada 150 as part of the Queen’s Guard is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
— Captain Megan Couto, 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry
Canadian Army
Finally, just in time for Canada Day (which was the point), Captain Megan Couto of 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, “upended more than 300 years of history,” as the London Daily Mail put it, by becoming the first female officer to command troops—hers—guarding the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Canadian Army
A proud moment for Canadians, no doubt, but a huge deal to the Brits, who only started lifting a ban on women in close combat roles in July 2016. The British infantry, including the Queen’s Foot Guards, won’t be opened to women until next year. In Canada, meanwhile, almost all military roles have been open to women since 1989.

So while Canada’s military spending won’t come anywhere near the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s standard of two per cent of gross domestic product any time soon, if ever, and its ranks will remain relatively small, peaking at 71,500 under the current plan, the forces will excel at producing highly trained and specialized personnel whose contributions, while not widespread, have always and will continue to be, significant and noteworthy.

The degree to which Canadian women will blaze trails in the military remains to be seen. No doubt women will continue to take on more prominent roles in Canada’s military, but the question persists whether their numbers will grow proportionately.

Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance wants to boost women’s military presence by a percentage point a year until it reaches 25 per cent, from the current 15.

It’s a tough challenge. In a study published earlier this year, Earnscliffe Strategy Group said the military ranks near the bottom as a career choice among women it polled via surveys and focus groups.

“Statistically speaking,” it said, “no women are currently identifying the military as the career of greatest interest. Conversely, the military is the second-most-common answer when women are asked which career is of least interest.

“Women most want to avoid careers that are physically risky; are deemed to offer poor work-life balance; and options that would require moving far away,” the study said.

So there’s that—and the fact that, Couto notwithstanding, about half the women in Canada’s military are concentrated in six occupations: resource management support clerks, supply technicians, logistics officers, medical technicians, nursing officers and cooks.

The military followed up the Earnscliffe report with a study of its own. The findings are to be released later this year.

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