Remembrance Day in the Mbaho household will be extra special this year as the Surrey family salutes the past while heralding a new era for the Canadian Armed Forces.
“We are very honoured and excited,” said Capt. William Mbaho, whose 12-year-old daughter Isabelle, an air cadet, has been selected to lay a wreath to honour Canada’s fallen at the cenotaph in Fort Langley Nov. 11.
“Growing up in Uganda we were never far away from the military and after coming to Canada in 1992 my mind has never been far away from the military. To see Canada now planning to open its doors wider to new immigrants is very rewarding and we get to celebrate it in a very special way this Remembrance Day.”
Capt. Mbaho, a public affairs officer with the Canadian Army Reserve in B.C., shared his personal story with NCM ahead of an imminent announcement that Canada’s military will be opening its doors wider to attract new immigrants into its ranks. Until now only Canadian citizens were eligible to apply for employment within the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Permanent resident status did not qualify you for employment with the CAF.
The change is already being reflected on the CAF recruitment site as details were being worked out this week for a media announcement. (This story will be updated with details of the new recruitment rules)
Short on recruits
NCM reported last April that Canada needs about 100,000 troops to be at full strength, but it is currently short about 12,000 regular force troops and reservists.
Women make up 16.3 per cent of the Canadian military demographic; Indigenous peoples come in at 2.7 per cent; and visible minorities make up less than 12 per cent of the Canadian military. Three-quarters of its ranks are white men.
In addition to the recruitment woes, the military is facing its highest attrition rate in 15 years and will need more than a decade to get the number of soldiers back up to needed levels, according to a briefing note prepared for defence chief Gen. Wayne Eyre and other senior leaders.
The briefing note obtained by Postmedia acknowledged the military is facing a “workforce crisis” and stated that a number of military health-related jobs, as well as aviation technician and air operations, army telecommunications and cyber operations positions, have dropped to “critical” levels.
In 2016, the RCMP scrapped its citizenship requirement, allowing permanent residents who have lived in Canada for more than 10 years to apply. The goal was in part to boost diversity in the ranks.
Vancouver-based entrepreneur and publisher Harbinder Singh Sewak, who founded the 3300 Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps (RCACC) also known as the Surrey Sikh Cadets, said the move to allow those with permanent resident status to join the military is long overdue.
“It will reflect the new face of Canada which is primarily driven by immigration,” said Sewak, whose work to increase the Sikh community’s engagement with the Canadian military has been honoured by the World Sikh Council in London.
“It also provides opportunities to get a first-class education because the military has a paid education program where 100 per cent of your school fees, including your tuition, books and academic equipment are covered.”
Capt. Mbaho, whose 11-year-od son Jahan will become an army cadet next year, agreed.
“The paid education program is a big draw for new immigrant families, especially as they begin to build their new lives in Canada,” he said.
“Our military is not just about fighting wars…it’s also about building careers through solid education pathways and the cadet corps is a great way of getting to know what’s available.”
The Canadian Armed Forces paid education program guarantees a job with the military in your field of study upon graduation. Each program requires two months of service for every month of paid education. Enrollees receive at least $27,600 while they complete their paid education programs.
The new policy comes in the wake of a parliamentary report earlier this year that called for the modernizing of the recruitment process in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Among those who testified at the parliamentary hearings was Dr. Stephen Saideman, Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University, who said the U.S. has long offered citizenship to people elsewhere who then become citizens along the way.
“This would not be easy, but it would help to develop a wider, deeper and more diverse pool of recruits,” Saideman said. “People will push back and say that security clearances get in the way, but this is something that the U.S. has managed to finesse. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do these things. We can do it too.
“The very least we can do is reduce the obstacles to immigrants already living here, as we need their skills, their diverse perspectives and their energy. With populations of the usual pools of recruits declining, we need to be more imaginative and more determined.”
Dr. Youri Cormier (Executive Director, Conference of Defence Associations) agreed that “open[ing] recruitment to landed immigrants as a fast track to obtaining Canadian citizenship” would help to expand the military’s traditional recruitment cohort.