Lt.-Gen. Jennie Carignan named Canada’s first female chief of the defence staff

posted 15 days ago.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has selected Lieutenant-General Jennie Carignan as the next chief of the defence staff, the first woman to head the Canadian Armed Forces. She replaces General Wayne Eyre, who is retiring after 40 years of service and has held the top military job since 2021. Lt.-Gen. Carignan, who will be promoted to the rank of general, will officially take up her duties during a change-of-command ceremony on July 18 at the Canadian War Museum.

“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,” the Prime Minister said in a statement Wednesday. “I am confident that, as Canada’s new Chief of the Defence Staff, she will help Canada be stronger, more secure, and ready to tackle global security challenges.”

Lt.-Gen. Carignan is a three-star general with a reputation for excellent service. She has commanded troops on a NATO mission in Iraq, served as chief of staff of army operations and held senior roles at National Defence headquarters. The Prime Minister has spoken often about the need to promote women to important positions in government.

In 2008, Lt.-Gen. Carignan became the first woman in Canadian Armed Forces history to command a combat arms unit. She has also served in Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Syria. Her most recent post was as chief of professional conduct in the military, where she was charged with the task of combatting sexual misconduct and overhauling the culture of the Armed Forces.

Over the years, the Forces have been hampered by recruitment shortfalls and procurement delays that have put force readiness at risk and pushed back critical equipment upgrades. Although there is no timeline for equipment purchases, the government’s recent military update pledges to look at options to replace Canada’s aging submarines, purchase new light armoured vehicles and tanks and acquire ground-based air-defence systems.

“Lt.-Gen. Jennie Carignan has served Canada with great distinction both at home and abroad. Throughout her career, she has had a proven track record of excellence on difficult operations,” Defence Minister Bill Blair said. “Her extensive experience makes her the right person to lead the Canadian Armed Forces through emerging security challenges – and I am confident in the future of this crucial institution under her leadership.”

As Chief of the Defence Staff, Lt.-Gen. Carignan will be facing major challenges, including demands from Canada’s allies to significantly beef up military spending. In a recent interview, Gen. Eyre said the $8.1-billion committed by the government to defence spending over the next five years still falls short of the NATO spending target of 2 per cent of annual economic output. The defence policy update, released April 8, calls for a fleet of early-warning aircraft and tactical helicopters, maritime sensors to detect missiles and ships, as well as a satellite ground station in the Arctic and expanded runways and port facilities in the region.

Last August, Russia and China conducted joint exercises in the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska. Russia has been building modern military bases and has nuclear submarines and a fleet of 13 polar icebreakers. China, which has declared itself a near-Arctic state, has two medium-strength icebreakers and is building an even larger, more powerful vessel. Beijing wants to use the Northern Sea Route through Russia’s Arctic to import energy and export goods.

Thomas Juneau, a professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, said Lt.-Gen. Carignan “has significant and very diverse experience, which is very good. She is “known as a doer,” he said. “She is very direct, very blunt and generally viewed as effective.”

Andrea Charron, director of the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba, said the appointment is in keeping with the Liberal government’s brand. “The first female chief of the defence staff – that’s certainly important for Canada.” She said it will be interesting to see who is appointed as vice-chief, because that’s “an office where all the problems end up.”

Prof. Charron said she expects the new defence chief will continue with the primary goal of improving readiness because, “as we know, recruitment and retention is such a problem.”

Other Western countries have been working to promote women to higher ranks. For example, Britain recently promoted the most senior female officer in its armed forces to the post of vice-chief of the defence staff.

(Source: The Globe & Mail, Steven Chase, Senior Parliamentary Reporter, Robert Fife, Ottawa Bureau Chief. Photo/Justin Tang, The Canadian Press)

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