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Sexual misconduct in the military is making it difficult to recruit new members because of the Canadian Armed Forces’ tarnished reputation, the acting head of military personnel says.

During a media briefing on Wednesday, Major-General Lise Bourgon said the issue has affected recruitment.

“Sadly, I wish I could tell you that we’ve not, but we’ve seen an impact,” she said. “We are working on this, the image has been tarnished a bit. The more action that we can take on culture change will help.”

Maj.-Gen. Bourgon said 71 per cent of the CAF is still comprised of white males, while she noted that they account for only 39 per cent of the rest of the country’s civilian work force. Women, minority groups, Indigenous people and LGBTQ members continue to be underrepresented within the organization, she added.

Maj.-Gen. Bourgon said the organization must attract, recruit, retain and develop individuals who are representative of Canadian society, adding that “the situation requires serious attention and clear leadership.”

The military has been trying to grapple with a mounting crisis of sexual misconduct in the ranks over the past year, although this a long-standing problem that was documented by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps in 2015.

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In 2021, there were a number of allegations of sexual misconduct in the CAF and it became a major issue of discussion in the House of Commons and before parliamentary committees.

Last April, concerns over the matter led to the appointment of former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour who is conducting an independent review of the Department of National Defence and the CAF. The federal government said a report from Ms. Arbour and a departmental response to it would be made public once complete and the process was expected to take 12 to 15 months.

Lieutenant-General Jennie Carignan, the military’s chief of professional conduct and culture, said Wednesday that change will be informed by Ms. Arbour’s forthcoming report.

“I would like to emphasize that change is a must-have rather than a nice-to-have, and not only for our current, but also for our future defence team members,” she said. “Lack of inclusion is a major barrier to both retention and recruitment.”

Maj.-Gen. Bourgon said about 15 per cent of those who enrolled in 2021-2022 were women, noting that the target is 25.1 per cent. She said the CAF was successful at reaching 27 per cent women in its regular officer training program, which mainly populates Canada’s military colleges. There is work under way, such as through recruitment campaigns, with a specific focus to attract women and Indigenous applicants, she added.

Brigadier-General Krista Brodie said the CAF’s recruitment target for Indigenous people is 3.5 per cent and 11.9 per cent for minorities by 2026.

Maj.-Gen. Bourgon also said Wednesday that one big change coming soon is an update to dress requirements.

Members have said the existing dress instructions are not inclusive, she said, adding that options will be given for individual appearance. She said an announcement would be coming with additional details.

“Professional skills and competence are not defined by the length or the colour of your hair,” Maj.-Gen. Bourgon said. “This will be the first visual display of our culture and honestly a very clear single that the CAF is evolving into a more inclusive organization.”

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