Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Canadian Military Considers Citizenship-Optional Recruitment Drive

The Canadian Forces may drop Canadian citizenship as a prerequisite for military service in order to boost the country's lagging troop strength. Enlisting landed immigrants is just one idea being looked at by the Forces, Capt. Helene Tremblay said. ''If we want to meet our recruitment targets, it might be necessary,'' said Tremblay, a military-career counsellor at Montreal's Canadian Forces recruiting centre. A decision is expected in the next few months, she added. Maj. Andy Coxhead, a spokesman for the Forces' main recruiting group at Ontario's Camp Borden, confirmed in a telephone interview that discussions among military officials on the subject are ongoing.No decision that threatens national security will be taken and any ''radical change'' to the recruiting process will require high-level approval, Coxhead said. But change to the recruitment process is coming, he added. Last year, 5,873 men and women joined the Forces 1,520, or 20 per cent, of whom were from Quebec. With those numbers, the Canadian military is not growing at a fast enough pace and eventually would be unable to meet its international commitments, Tremblay said. At any given time, 40 per cent of Canada's 63,000 regular troops and reservists are engaged in operational missions and pre-deployment, she said. Canada's high-profile mission in Afghanistan, in which 26 soldiers have been killed, including seven this month, is one of only 18 to which the Forces is committed. As a result, the military has undertaken a national recruitment program, known as Operation Connection. The cross-Canada initiative aims to raise the military's profile and boost troop strength to 75,000 over the next five years. At the same time, the Forces is looking at other ways to increase troop strength. Speaking to a Senate committee this year, Gen. Rick Hillier, Canada's top soldier, floated the idea of fast-tracking citizenship to landed immigrants who serve in the Canadian Forces. The idea is not new. The famed French Foreign Legion was created by the king of France in 1831 to support his war in Algeria. Today, 25 to 35 per cent of its membership is French, and the remainder are from all over the world. After three years of service, the latter group is allowed to apply for French citizenship.