Lt.-Gen. Jennie Carignan gets Canadian Armed Forces’ top job

Lt.-Gen. Jennie Carignan gets Canadian Armed Forces’ top job
Lt.-Gen. Jennie Carignan gets Canadian Armed Forces’ top job

In 2008, Carignan became the first woman to lead a combat force in the Canadian military. Now she’s the first woman to hold the Canadian Armed Forces’ top job

Author of the article:

The Canadian Press

Sarah Ritchie

Published Jul 03, 2024Last updated 4 hours ago3 minute read

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OTTAWA — The federal government has named Lt.-Gen. Jennie Carignan as defence chief, making her the first woman to hold the Canadian Armed Forces’ top job.

Carignan is currently the military’s chief of professional conduct and culture, a position created in the wake of the sexual misconduct crisis.

Several high-ranking leaders were forced to step down from their posts after they were accused of sexual misconduct in 2021.

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The resulting scandal prompted a damning external report by former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour that made a series of recommendations to change the toxic culture within the Armed Forces. Carignan has been the face of the efforts to reform that culture, providing updates to the public about efforts to implement those recommendations.

Carignan joined the military in 1986, and has commanded combat engineer regiments and led troops responding to floods in Quebec.

In 2008, she became the first woman to lead a combat force in the Canadian military.

She received the Meritorious Service Medal and the Governor General’s Order of Military Merit, and her deployments included Afghanistan, Bosnia and Syria. She led a yearlong NATO mission in Iraq that ended in late 2020.

Her official biography also notes that she has four children, including two who are members of the Armed Forces.

In a statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he’s confident she will help make the country stronger and more secure.

“Over the course of her career, her exceptional leadership qualities, commitment to excellence and dedication to service have been a tremendous asset to our Armed Forces,” he said.

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Carignan takes over a military in transition, amid the ongoing culture change efforts and the urgent task of trying to rebuild its ranks after years of declining recruitment and poor retention.

The Armed Forces is short of around 16,000 troops, and for several years it has failed to recruit more members than it has lost to retirement or release, something that Defence Minister Bill Blair called a “death spiral” back in March.

That has been a source of tension between the government and military leadership.

It comes at the same time as increased demands on the Armed Forces to respond to weather-related emergencies in Canada and boost the country’s presence in Eastern Europe as war rages in Ukraine.

In a recent interview, the outgoing defence chief said the military is “starting to sense a turnaround” in recruitment.

Gen. Wayne Eyre said Canada’s allies are facing similar challenges in recruiting for their militaries, and the problem is not fully understood.

He cited the “very tight labour market” as one challenge, along with changing demographics.

Eyre said there are also issues with Canadians’ readiness to serve, with “increased incidence of medical challenges, mental-health challenges.”

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The Armed Forces is experimenting with changes to its medical admissibility for people with certain conditions like allergies, or those who are taking medication for ADHD.

“We have started a pathway for significant change across the institution,” he said, adding that an upcoming internal strategy will detail efforts to improve the military’s overall readiness.

Eyre was appointed in 2021 when Adm. Art McDonald stepped down weeks into his tenure as defence chief after being accused of sexual misconduct.

He said stabilizing the organization amid that scandal was the top priority.

“All of those efforts are. It’s a work in progress, and so that’s what I leave for my successor: unfinished work, but work that will never be finished because it continues to evolve,” he said.

Carignan is set to officially take over command of the Armed Forces in a ceremony on July 18.

Lt.-Gen. Frances Allen, who was the first woman to be named vice-chief of the defence staff, also plans to retire this year and will be replaced in an early August change-of-command ceremony. Her replacement has not been named publicly.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published July 3, 2024.

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