As Deputy Chair of the Standing Committee on National Security and Defence, I have had the opportunity to study several of the important issues affecting our Canadian Armed Forces as a part of our greater study of the Defence Policy Review. The results of this study can be found in two of our most recent reports, Military Underfunded: The Walk Must Match the Talk and Reinvesting in the Canadian Armed Forces: A Plan for the Future.

Unfortunately, given the brief nature of reports, I did not have the opportunity to go into as great detail as possible on many of these issues. To better address these issues, I will use this blog to go into greater depth.

For this first entry, I will be expanding on how the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) is falling behind on its diversity goals of 11.8% visible minority representation, and 3.4% aboriginal representation.

In our study, we learned that Canada had barely reached half of those goals! Currently, visible minorities only represent 6.5% of the CAF, while aboriginal people only represent another 2.5%. Every witness who spoke on this issue agreed: Canada must change its thinking if it wishes to find lasting solutions to this problem.

In particular, we learned that Canada must take an active role in reaching out to its diverse population. I could not agree more, after looking to the success of our allies in the United States.

The United States currently enjoys one of the most diverse militaries in the world- with visible minorities making up 40% of its military in 2015, with good representation in officer ranks.

A major source of this success is the fact that American recruiters actively pursue a working relationship with specific groups; especially African-Americans. Further, the US offers an expedited immigration process through military service, making it an appealing option to many new Americans.

In contrast, Canada has not even had a comprehensive plan to attract visible minorities and aboriginal peoples until the start of this year! Outreach works; and Canada needs to catch up and adopt this type of strategy.

With that said, recruitment alone is not enough. If we wish to keep our Canadian Armed Forces diverse, we must retain the visible minorities and aboriginal people that we recruit! Unfortunately, two major issues make tracking retention incredibly difficult:

First, visible minority and aboriginal designation in the CAF are gained through self-identification. Studies within and outside of the government have confirmed that this leads to inaccurate numbers, and individuals often choose not to self-identify.

Second, the CAF hold far fewer in-depth studies on its diversity, compared to other issues like gender balance or skill distribution. While there have been several initiatives to examine and eliminate other retention gaps, there is no equivalent for diversity.

In other words, we do not even have the data to track of how visible minorities fit into the CAF! If we are serious about promoting diversity we need to keep informed.

It is critical that Canada take these steps towards a diverse military. Visible minorities and aboriginal people are critical to strengthening the Canadian Armed Forces’ operational capability, and have historically helped bolster our interoperability with our allies.

Our report set out some important first steps, and this blog provides even more depth on important steps Canada can take to improve its diversity through recruitment and retention.

Over the next weeks, I will be providing similar in-depth looks into other issues! Please check in next week, as this blog examines issues affecting women in the Canadian Armed Forces, with particular focus on the Royal Canadian Air Force.