The Canadian Armed Forces has kicked out dozens of service members who refused to bare their arms and get vaccinated, while release proceedings have started for hundreds of others.
The steps come after chief of the defence staff Gen. Wayne Eyre ordered all military personnel be fully vaccinated by mid−October to protect the Armed Forces from COVID−19. The deadline was later extended to mid−December.
While most service members complied with the order, with the Defence Department reporting more than 98 per cent of Canadian troops had chosen to get vaccinated, hundreds of others did not. Those soldiers are now being forced to hang up their uniforms.
Fifty−eight full−time members of the Canadian Armed Forces had been involuntarily released for refusing to get their shots as of Wednesday, Defence Department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said in an email.
“Notices of Intent” have been given to 246 others, meaning the formal process has now started for forcing them out as well, though Le Bouthillier said there is still a chance some could change their mind and remain in uniform by getting their vaccines.
Another 66 unvaccinated members of the regular force have voluntarily left the Canadian Armed Forces, he added.
Figures were not immediately available on the number of reservists who have been — or are in danger of being — kicked out.
The unprecedented moves follow months of warnings, counselling sessions and other efforts to convince vaccine−resistant troops to change their minds and get their jabs. Defence officials earlier this month said nearly 1,000 troops had been issued warnings.
Yet the releases are also certain to exacerbate the military’s ongoing shortage of personnel, which has grown worse during the pandemic as recruiting centres and training schools were forced to close or otherwise restrict their activities.
While the military is supposed to have around 100,000 troops at full strength, Defence Department figures show it was short around 10,000 members at the end of November.
Another 10,000 troops were listed as unavailable for duty because they were either untrained, sick or injured.
This comes at a time when the pandemic as well as growing international instability has resulted in the Armed Forces being tasked with an ever−growing list of requests for assistance at home and missions overseas.
Eyre in an interview in November acknowledged the Canadian Armed Forces is “a fragile organization right now because of our numbers being down, because of the (operational) tempo, because of this crisis in (sexual) misconduct.”
While lawyer and retired colonel Michel Drapeau said Armed Forces members who refuse to get vaccinated could be charged, Le Bouthillier could not immediately say whether that has happened.
Either way, Drapeau, who specializes in military law, said there are significant and long term implications on Armed Forces members’ pensions and other financial benefits for leaving the military before they have served for 25 years.
“I totally agree with the decision of the Canadian military to release members who refuse to be vaccinated because they are no longer universally employable and deployable, which is at the very core of the military profession,” he said in an email.
Several Armed Forces members tried to challenge the vaccine requirement in Federal Court last month, where they asked Justice Janet Fuhrer to intervene and stop the military from forcing them to get their shots.
But continuing a string of legal defeats for federal employees fighting vaccine requirements, Fuhrer dismissed their arguments.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2022.
The Canadian Press