The Department of National Defence is reporting limited progress on enforcing an order that all troops bare their arms, with fewer unvaccinated members having been forced to hang up their uniforms than previously reported.
Chief of the defence staff Gen. Wayne Eyre ordered all military personnel to be fully vaccinated by mid-October to protect the Canadian 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.
The Defence Department told The Canadian Press in February that 58 full-time Armed Forces members had been kicked out of the military after refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19, with release proceedings started for another 246.
But Defence Department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said Tuesday that those numbers included “incorrect metrics,” and only 39 have been involuntarily released since December. Another 206 are in the process of being forced out of the military.
Ninety-four full-time members have voluntarily hung up their uniforms rather than get vaccinated, Le Bouthillier added. The number of part-time reservists who have chosen to leave — or are in danger of being kicked out — wasn’t available.
While a number of provinces that previously imposed vaccine requirements have since lifted them, the Liberal government has maintained the mandate for federal public servants. Le Bouthillier said that includes the Canadian military.
“The requirement continues to be in effect,” he said. “Members of the Canadian Armed Forces have a duty to preserve their ability to serve Canadians at home and support our allies and partners abroad.”
Asked about the fact only a few dozen members have been forced out, Le Bouthillier said some unvaccinated members have remained in uniform while waiting to see if they will be granted an exemption on medical or religious grounds.
Senior commanders have also provided numerous warnings, counselling sessions and other efforts to convince vaccine-resistant troops to change their minds and get their jabs.
Nearly 1,000 troops have been issued warnings since December, Le Bouthillier said, while formal reviews have been launched against 445 members who continue to defy the vaccination order after other remedial measures have been exhausted.
Any releases are likely 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 about 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.
Eyre warned last week that the military is “stretched pretty thin,” with many members exhausted from the last two years, which saw personnel support Canadians throughout the pandemic while responding to natural disasters and events overseas.
The events include Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, though Eyre also noted concerns about Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific region have not gone away, while extremist groups and even climate change remain ever present.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 19, 2022.