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Face to Face: Should Canada allow foreign citizens to join the Canadian Armed Forces?

Aaron Kylie says No

When Canadians went to fight in the First World War, they were initially led by two British generals, Edwin Alderson then Julian Byng. It made sense. The country had almost no military then. And it’s hard to develop a professional armed force if a nation doesn’t develop its own. 

Fortunately, opportunities struck for Ontario-born militia man Arthur Currie and Byng eventually recommended he take command of the Canadian Corps. Currie led his countrymen to numerous key victories and became renowned for his planning, preparation and leadership. 

Canada emerged from the conflict a changed country. Its participation led to many social programs and infrastructure projects that are still hallmarks of Canadian culture, largely, if not entirely, because Canadians themselves, like Currie, had first-hand experiences. That’s why, to start, the country should not allow foreign citizens at large to join the Canadian Armed Forces. Home-grown talent has always been critical to Canada’s development, militarily or otherwise. 

To be clear, excluding foreigners from the CAF is NOT about questioning their experience, fortitude, commitment or trustworthiness. As with Currie, Canada long fought to have its own citizens lead its forces and the country must continue to recruit, train and develop its own military members. The alternative is akin to a private army, like Russia’s Wagner Group or the U.S. Blackwater company, made up of guns-for-hire mercenaries. 

The alternative is akin to a private army, like Russia’s Wagner Group, made up of guns-for-hire mercenaries.

If the goal extends beyond addressing the recruitment crisis to helping diversify the force, the country hardly needs to look beyond its borders. Canada is renowned as one of the most multicultural nations on the planet. Canadians reported more than 450 ethnic or cultural origins in the 2021 census. Some 52 per cent report European origins, while nearly four million Canadians noted Indo-Pacific origins, including 1.7 million from China, 1.3 million from India and nearly one million from the Philippines. In total, one in four Canadians are part of a racialized group. 

Plus, the CAF already admits foreign nationals in exceptional cases such as individuals on military exchanges or for those with high-demand specialized skills. So, there’s little need to expand such a policy. Also, a program introduced in 2014 allows foreigners on exchange, attached to or seconded to the CAF to fast-track their citizenship. More than a hundred such applications, from countries such as Hungary, Singapore, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates, have been approved. 

And, while in the recent past many other foreign nationals have applied to the CAF, the majority have been refused as they don’t meet immigration, refugee or citizenship requirements. Should Canada really change those already accommodating rules just to fill out the ranks?

Of course, last year Canada began allowing all permanent residents to apply to the CAF. (It had previously accepted such applicants trained by foreign militaries.) In just one week after the change, half of new CAF applicants were permanent residents. Those were promising early results. The country should stick with the initiative and see what happens before allowing complete outsiders to serve the country. Canadians deserve it. 



Grazia (Grace) Scoppio says Yes

Since November 2022, immigrants to Canada who have acquired
permanent residence but are not yet Canadian citizens are eligible to apply to join the Canadian Armed Forces. This historical policy change was, for years, advocated by many, including myself. Previously, only Canadian citizens could join the CAF, with some exceptions such as the little-known Skilled Military Foreign Applicant program, designed to recruit small numbers of foreign nationals with specialized skills such as trained pilots or doctors.  

Due to severe recruiting shortfalls, however, the CAF had no choice but to open its doors to all permanent residents of Canada who qualify. Indeed, the military is short approximately 16,000 members or about 15 per cent of its optimal strength. These recruiting challenges aren’t new, but they are becoming critical as the traditional pool of white men keeps shrinking. To be sure, the CAF does not reflect the ethnocultural and gender diversity of Canada’s workforce. Nor is it meeting its own employment equity goals: 16.1 per cent of the total force are women, compared to the 25.1 per cent goal; racialized Canadians make up 9.6 per cent, versus the 11.8 per cent target; and 2.8 per cent are Indigenous Peoples, while the aim is 3.5 per cent. 

In contrast, the Canadian labour market is increasingly diverse and fuelled by immigrants, the majority of whom are from Asia. They are contributing to the growing rates of racialized Canadians, which now make up a quarter of the population. The CAF seemed unaffected by these trends—until now. 

It’s high time Canada allows new immigrants the opportunity to join its military and give them a chance to serve their adopted country.

It’s high time Canada allows new immigrants the opportunity to join its military and give them a chance to serve their adopted country as soldiers, aviators and sailors. This has been the case for decades in the U.S., where citizenship is not required to join the armed forces and, in some cases, immigrants who join the military have their citizenship expedited. In turn, these immigrant soldiers enhance the diversity of the American military, with more than 40 per cent of its members now identifying as belonging to a minority group. 

Since the policy change in Canada, thousands of permanent residents have applied to join the CAF. These immigrants can not only fill vacant billets, but also help diversify the force so it better reflects Canada’s multicultural and gender diverse population. Diversity brings strength through different ways of thinking, new perspectives, experiences and skill sets. At the same time, these newcomers can now access fulfilling military careers, with benefits, training and educational opportunities, which in turn facilitates their integration into Canadian society.

Ultimately, to meet the CAF’s mandate to protect Canada, defend North America in collaboration with the U.S. and contribute to international peace and security, the country needs a diverse military that, as was set out in the 2017 defence policy, “looks like Canada.” Allowing permanent residents to join will help the CAF achieve this goal. 


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