Canada promotes recruitment of transgender troops as Donald Trump imposes military ban

As U.S. President Donald Trump pushes a new policy to banish transgender Americans from the military, Canada is taking steps to promote diversity in the ranks and recruit more gay, lesbian and trans troops.

Canadian Armed Forces tweet 'Join us!' after U.S. president announces plan for expulsion

The Canadian Armed Forces were welcoming transgender recruits to the military on the same day U.S. President Donald Trump announced a ban on transgender members from service 'in any capacity.' (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

As U.S. President Donald Trump pushes a new policy to banish transgender Americans from the military, Canada is taking steps to promote diversity in the ranks and recruit more gay, lesbian and trans troops.

Jordan Owens, spokesperson for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, said the government is fully committed to building a defence team that "reflects Canadian ideals of diversity, respect and inclusion."

"Our diversity strategy and action plan will promote an institution-wide culture that embraces diversity and inclusion, and we will continue to focus on the recruitment and retention of under-represented groups within the Canadian Forces' ranks," she said in a statement to CBC News.

That's in sharp contrast to the U.S. president's new policy, announced through a series of Twitter posts Wednesday, which says transgender individuals will not be permitted to serve "in any capacity."

The Canadian Armed Forces tweeted about its welcoming approach to recruitment on Wednesday afternoon. 

"We welcome Cdns of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Join us!" it reads, with a photograph of Royal Canadian Navy Band members playing instruments festooned in Pride colours.

The photo was taken during Pride Day in Toronto on July 3, 2016.

The Forces' existing policy statement dated Feb. 8, 2011, refers to "transsexual" members and offers guidance for commanding officers and leadership at all levels to prevent discrimination and harassment and to ensure all members are treated with dignity and respect regardless of gender identity.

Department of National Defence spokesperson Daniel Le Bouthillier said that policy is currently under review, with an update including revised terminology and further guidelines for supporting transgender members scheduled to be finalized this fall.

Diversity a source of strength

"Diversity is viewed as a source of strength and flexibility, plays a pivotal role in making the Canadian Armed Forces a modern, forward-looking organization, and is imperative to the CAF's operational effectiveness," he said. "To achieve that objective, the CAF is committed to increasing diversity and promoting inclusiveness amongst its personnel." 

Trump cited "tremendous medical costs" and "disruption" that transgender members would cause for the military.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced a ban on transgender military members in a series of Twitter posts. (Chris Kleponis/Getty Images)

In Canada, 19 Forces' members completed sex reassignment surgery between 2008 and 2015 for a total cost of $319,000. 

The military also covers costs for hormone therapy, medications, psychological support and financial support for related travel for trans members.

The Defence Department does not track the number of transgender military members, and in the U.S. data is also hard to pin down. 

Last year, then U.S. defence secretary Ash Carter cited a study by the RAND Corporation think-tank that said estimated about 2,500 active-duty service members and 1,500 reserve members were transgender.

'Despicable directive'

NDP defence critic Randall Garrison said Trump's ban is based on ignorance and hate and predicted it will weaken military cohesion.

He called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to condemn the "despicable directive" to show that Canada respects human rights and stands up against discrimination.

"It is wrong and must be called out," he said in a statement.

"Service to one's country is of the highest honour. Transgender people who are currently in the military and those who wish to serve are, in many ways, the bravest of the brave."


Kathleen Harris

Senior producer, Politics

Kathleen Harris is the senior producer for CBC.ca in the CBC's Parliament Hill bureau.

With files from Katie Simpson


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