First female head of the Armed Forces

(Ottawa) On July 18, Jennie Carignan will become the first woman to take the reins of the Canadian Armed Forces. Her appointment should be announced shortly, but Justin Trudeau’s choice is already drawing criticism – often anonymous – on social media.

Published yesterday at 6:44 p.m.

The appointment of Lieutenant-General Carignan, an engineer by training who has served her country for more than 35 years, as Chief of the Defence Staff was confirmed at The Press by a high-ranking government source.

Over the course of her career, Jennie Carignan commanded two combat engineer regiments, the Royal Military College of Saint-Jean, as well as the 2e Canadian Division. It was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Golan Heights and Afghanistan.

The soldier also commanded the NATO mission in Iraq for a year, from November 2019 to November 2020. About five months later, she took command of the unit responsible for culture change within the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).⁠1.

“This is a historic appointment; I think just taking that into account and celebrating this moment is a good thing,” said Charlotte Duval-Lantoine, Director of Operations (Ottawa office) and Fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

However, she expects Jennie Carignan to encounter resistance. First, because the role of combat engineer is “perceived as inferior to an infantry role and an artillery role,” notes the military affairs specialist.

Then there’s its gender – the organization isn’t exactly known for its openness to diversity. The political context, too. “There will be anti-Justin Trudeau reactions,” says Charlotte Duval-Lantoine.

The nomination, leaked last Friday by several media outlets, has already had people typing on their keyboards. In bulk: “The new boss has a vagina. I really feel safer”, “Planned fall”, “Discriminatory hiring”, etc.

Exaggerated expectations and representativeness

Added to this is the fact that expectations of the lieutenant-general may be excessive, says Philippe Lagassé, associate professor at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa.

“I think the expectations that the public and politicians have of her, in terms of what she can achieve in terms of culture, are a little unfair – that suddenly, with a woman, it brings about a major change,” he argues.

Moreover, the institution is not limited to a single person: “It doesn’t work that way. It’s not by changing the gender of the person at the head of an organization that you automatically change its culture,” argues Mr. Lagassé.

The arrival of Jennie Carignan at the top of the CAF hierarchical pyramid nevertheless constitutes progress for girls and women, judges Bloc Québécois MP Christine Normandin.

It doesn’t matter whether she’s a woman or not, it’s a good appointment. So much the better if it can send a positive message, because in the Armed Forces, we don’t have exceptional figures in terms of female representation.

Christine Normandin, Bloc Québécois MP for Saint-Jean

Her NDP colleague Lindsay Mathyssen agrees. We need more women in positions of authority, she believes: “It strengthens those who follow us. I see it in politics.”

Asked for a reaction on Tuesday, the Conservative Party did not respond.

National and international challenges

Experts and elected officials agree on one thing: the lieutenant-general will have her hands full. Nationally, recruiting and retaining CAF members tops the list of challenges facing her.

Last May, Defence Secretary Bill Blair said that only 4,000 of the 70,000 people who applied to join up had been accepted. “That’s not good enough,” he said.

There is also Canada’s place on the world stage, and this inability to establish a precise roadmap towards reaching the floor of 2% of GDP in NATO military spending.

Jennie Carignan does not necessarily have any control over this. “The decision is up to the Prime Minister […]”There is an election coming up where we want to demonstrate that we have control over finances,” notes Philippe Lagassé.

“The pressure will surely come from the United States, less from what the chief of staff will say,” he continues. Nearly a quarter of American senators wrote to Justin Trudeau last May to urge him to reach the minimum target of 2%.

This was ahead of the annual NATO summit, which will take place this year in Washington next week.

Of the 32 member countries of the political-military alliance, all have men as chiefs of defense. This all-male family portrait will soon change with the arrival of Jennie Carignan.

Mr. Trudeau will be there to “reaffirm Canada’s commitment to the security and stability of the Euro-Atlantic region, particularly in the face of Russia’s continued attacks and destabilization.”

1. Read “On the Terrace with Jennie Carignan: The Battle for Change”



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