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The Canadian military shorted out thousands of troops due to COVID-19

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Canadian press

Lee Berthiaume

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February 14, 2021 • • February 14, 2021 • • 3 minutes read • • 10 comments On May 6, 2020, members of the Canadian Armed Forces will arrive at Pickering's Orchard Villa nursing home to provide assistance.On May 6, 2020, members of the Canadian Armed Forces will arrive at Pickering’s Orchard Villa nursing home to provide assistance. Photo by VERONICA HENRI /.TORONTO SUN

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OTTAWA – Canadian forces grapple with a shortage of several thousand soldiers as COVID-19 forced the military to curb the training of new recruits for most of the past year.

While the military says there has been no immediate impact on its missions at home and abroad as it addresses the deficits and training issues, a spokesperson recognized the potential for longer-term ramifications.

“It is too early to see how the reduced number of recruitment files being processed during the pandemic will affect CAF operations in the medium to long term,” said Maj. Travis Smyth in an email.

The liberal federal government has authorized the armed forces to have at least 68,000 regular members and 29,000 part-time reservists. This is based on the available funding and the missions the military is expected to carry out.

However, according to the Canadian press, the military missed these targets by about 2,000 members of the regular armed forces and nearly 5,000 reservists in late December.

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One reason: The military has only been able to offer about a quarter of the expected new hires since March in basic training as COVID-19 forced recruitment centers and training camps to close or otherwise restrict their operations.

“The pandemic has limited training for much of the year to meet provincial and federal health and safety guidelines,” Smyth said.

“The reduced training capacity has reduced the number of files processed, in addition to the strict protocols that recruitment centers must follow to ensure the safety and wellbeing of applicants and employees.”

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The pandemic has exacerbated a long-standing problem for the military, which has struggled for years to attract new recruits.

Federal auditor Michael Ferguson pointed out staff shortages as a real threat to the armed forces in November 2016 and warned that this would put more strain on uniformed men and the injured military operations.

The military at that time dealt with roughly the same number of vacant positions as they do today, which created a number of problems including a lack of personnel to fly or maintain various aircraft.

The deficits persisted despite the Liberal government’s promise in 2017 to expand the armed forces to defend against growing global instability and emerging threats in space and online.

The recruitment challenge has helped senior commanders make the armed forces more inclusive and actively seek to attract women, visible minorities, Indigenous Canadians and members of the LGBTQ community.

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On the plus side, Smyth said the military had managed to make some progress in retaining more seasoned members in 2019 and the first three months of 2020, despite lacking numbers for the nine months of the pandemic.

Defense analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute said the difficulties in attracting and training recruits during the pandemic were not surprising given the restrictions placed on society as a whole.

However, he also noted that at a time of great economic uncertainty for much of the country, the military – and the federal government – are stable employment and that the military should at least be able to see a better bond.

Anyway, Perry said the ongoing challenge of getting new recruits in uniform underscores the importance of the military’s efforts to attract new recruits beyond their previous source: white men.

“The interest and duty of the military organization to achieve some very long-term goals … to expand its recruiting base, to make it more representative of the whole country, is growing in importance,” said Perry.

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He also feared that continued reports of hatred and sexual misconduct among the ranks – including recent allegations against former Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance – are sending the wrong message to potential recruits.

Global News has reported allegations that Vance had an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate and made a sexual commentary to a service member, which he far surpassed in 2012 before assuming the senior post of the military.

Vance has not responded to requests from the Canadian press and the allegations against him have not been independently reviewed or examined in court. According to Global, Vance has denied any wrongdoing.

The military police are currently investigating the allegations, while Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan has promised an independent investigation into the matter.

The military police confirmed last week that they had opened an investigation into Vance’s conduct while serving as deputy commander of a NATO force in Naples, Italy, before being named chief of defense. No charges were ever brought.

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