Two years after upping its targets for recruiting women, aboriginals and visible minorities, the Canadian Forces is falling far short of meeting its goals.
According to statistics provided to CBC News Network’s Power & Politics by the Department of National Defence, women now make up less than 15 per cent of the military – well below the 25 per cent target and even behind its previous target that was based on 2001 census data.
Visible minorities account for less than 5 per cent of the Canadian Forces – that’s less than half the goal of nearly 12 per cent, and aboriginals make up just over two per cent of the military, compared to the 3.4 per cent target.
The employment equity recruiting goals aim to meet the targets by 2013.
DND says it’s committed to better reflecting Canadian society and has community outreach, advertising and other initiatives to increase diversity.
So why is the military still primarily made up of white men? Does it matter? And is the military doing enough to meet its own targets?
Speaking to CBC News Network’s Power & Politics Chris Alexander, parliamentary secretary to the defence minister, said it’s critical for the Canadian Forces to better reflect Canada’s demography reality in order to project our values around the world. The department has set “ambitious targets” and is working hard to make better progress.
He pointed out that Canada is ahead of the curve on many fronts compared even to like-minded democracies – including the role of women in every capacity.
Alexander told guest host Hannah Thibedeau: “I think we can do more, but I think we need, as Canadians, to understand we have done well,” he said. “They are submariners, they are fighter pilots.”
The Conservative MP said today’s dynamics are shaped by decades of past policy decisions, and blamed the Liberals for contributing to the problem by closing down reserve units when they were in power. Those units were helpful in recruiting target groups, he said.
But NDP MP and military procurement critic Matthew Kellway said the data masks an even more troubling trend. Women mostly serve in traditional roles in the military, and constant conflict between aboriginal groups and the federal government has thwarted efforts to attract more aboriginals to serve.
He said the Canadian Forces must do better in order to win support from the public.
“If the Canadian Forces wants the support of the Canadian population, it’s imperative that they reflect the diversity of the population,” said Kellway.
Liberal defence critic John McKay said the military isn’t in tune as it should be with successful recruiting techniques. He said the Canadian Forces must do a better job of aggressively targeting groups in urban cores.
Walter Dorn, a professor of defence studies at the Royal Military College of Canada, said the military is doing much work to improve the numbers – but still needs to do more to change the “culture.”
“Despite the best efforts, there’s still a tendency for the white males to dominate in the Canadian Forces, and that’s only natural. By being themselves they’re going to have tendencies and biases that aren’t shared by other communities,” he said. “A lot of that is nuanced and subtle, but it’s definitely there.”
Dorn said the linguistic and cultural skills of minority groups not only better reflect Canada on the world stage, but are also an operational asset in deployments abroad.