Despite efforts by the Canadian Forces to boost the number of women, visible minorities and aboriginals within its ranks, the military has been losing ground in recruiting from designated groups.
The military’s employment equity plan, obtained by Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, reveals few jobs within the military near “acceptable” levels of representation of women, visible minorities, aboriginal peoples and people with disabilities.
“This reflects a lack of progress over the past years, and ground that has to be made up as we move forward,” the document says.
The latest figures provided by the Canadian Forces reveal the gap has widened as the military fell more than 11,200 people short of its representation targets in June 2007.
In January 2006, the employment equity plan was short of its benchmark by just over 10,000 people.
The largest gaps between actual and expected representation were for women and visible minorities.
The Canadian Forces doesn’t actively recruit people with disabilities because of a principle that requires those in uniform to be deployable for operational duties.
Lt.-Col. Diana Herrington, who runs the military’s directorate of human rights and diversity, said the military isn’t where it wants to be.
“We have a ways to go, there is no doubt that . . . the gap is high. We recognize that,” she said.
The military has set a number of short- and medium-term recruitment goals to bolster its representation levels, including reaching out to visible-minority communities. Recruiting visible minorities “should be given a higher priority” than the other groups because of “anticipated changes in the demographic makeup of Canada” over the next 35 years, the equity plan says.
It says it’s “critical” the military recruit from the designated groups, otherwise “ensuring adequate manning levels in the future will become increasingly difficult.”
But the military isn’t alone in failing to meet its equity targets.
Michel Lefebvre of the Canadian Human Rights Commission said the Employment Equity Act prevents him from commenting specifically on the Canadian Forces, but speaking generally about all employers that fall under the federal law, there is under-representation “in practically every single audit that we do conduct.”
The military faces a number of hurdles when trying to recruit visible minorities.
An internal draft report obtained by Canadian Press reveals women and visible minorities are the groups least familiar with the military, although overall familiarity with the Canadian Forces among those surveyed in late 2005 and early 2006 rose 4 percentage points to 56 per cent since 2000.
More than half the women and visible minorities surveyed said they were either not very familiar or completely unfamiliar with the military.
Military historian Jack Granatstein said he would have expected more Canadians to have a better understanding of the military given the amount of coverage it gets because of Afghanistan.
“I am surprised because I just think there’s been far more coverage in the last five years than I’ve ever seen of the regular forces, outside of full-scale war,” he said.
The draft report appears to highlight a challenge facing the Canadian Forces as it tries to improve representation among designated groups.
Granatstein said the military’s regular force “hasn’t had the kind of success it would wish to have” reaching out to these designated groups.
Herrington said one possible explanation for the military’s failure to meet its employment equity goals is that visible minorities tend to live in large, urban centres, away from the military’s traditional rural recruiting base. Another theory, she said, is that some also come from war-torn countries where the military is seen as corrupt.
Christian Leuprecht, a political science professor who specializes in diversity within the Canadian Forces at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., said those are symptoms, not the root of the problem.
Despite a 1989 human rights tribunal that gave the military 10 years to open all its ranks and trades to women, he said it still isn’t doing enough to attract new recruits from minority groups.
Leuprecht said the military has been slow to move from “a very traditional, monolithic” culture to one “more reflective of Canadian society that would be more welcoming to people from diverse backgrounds.”
“If you look at the senior leadership, it tends to be white males . . . the people within the organization still think that they alone know what’s best in terms of who needs to get promoted,” he said.