Canada names first woman to lead its military

Friday, July 05, 2024 - In a historic move, Canada appointed a woman as the country's top soldier for the first time on Wednesday, July 3, continuing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's initiative to place women in senior leadership positions.

Lieutenant-General Jennie Carignan, tasked with addressing ingrained sexism and misconduct in the armed forces, will assume the role of Chief of the Defense Staff on July 18. Carignan, originally a military engineer, has commanded troops in Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq, and Syria during her 35-year military career.

"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," Trudeau said in a statement.

Carignan's appointment comes at a critical time when Canada faces pressure from allies to increase its defence spending. The armed forces are currently struggling to meet recruitment goals and have been slow to replace outdated equipment. Last November, the head of the navy warned that the service was in "a critical state" and might not be able to carry out its basic duties in 2024.

Trudeau, who has championed gender equality since taking office in late 2015, previously appointed Brenda Lucki as the first female head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 2018. Additionally, the last two governors-general, the official representatives of the British monarchy, have been women appointed by Trudeau.

Women currently make up 16 percent of the Canadian military, according to government data.

Carignan grew up in the mining town of Asbestos, Quebec, as the daughter of a policeman and a teacher. She joined the military in 1986, three years before Canada allowed women in combat roles. Training as a combat engineer—a role that involves clearing bombs and erecting and destroying battlefield structures—she quickly rose through the ranks, challenging preconceptions about women in combat.

Carignan became the first woman to lead a Canadian combat unit, deploying to Afghanistan where she narrowly avoided a suicide bomber and an improvised explosive device that damaged a vehicle in her convoy. She has also served in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Syria, led NATO's training mission in Iraq from 2019 to 2020, and commanded the 2nd Canadian Division, the military's largest regiment with more than 10,000 troops.

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