Lt.-Gen. Jennie Carignan chosen as next chief of the defence staff

Lt.-Gen. Jennie Carignan has been named the next chief of the defence staff, CBC News and Radio-Canada have learned — making her the first woman to serve as the top commander of the Canadian military.

Carignan will succeed Gen. Wayne Eyre as leader of the Canadian Armed Forces, a senior source said.

CBC News is keeping the name of the source confidential because they were not allowed to speak publicly about the announcement.

Canada has had 21 full-time defence chiefs since the role was created in 1964, all of them men.

The source said Carignan was offered the position on Wednesday and has accepted.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to formally announce her appointment next Tuesday, July 2, ahead of the NATO leaders' summit taking place from July 9 to 11. Formally, the Governor General appoints defence chiefs on the advice of the federal cabinet.

CBC News first reported that the change-of-command ceremony, when Carignan will be officially promoted to the top job, is set for July 18.

New appointee considered trailblazer

Carignan is currently the military's chief of professional conduct and culture — a newly-created position she's held since April 2021, when she was tasked by the federal government with combating sexual misconduct within the Canadian Armed Forces and changing the military's culture.

Carignan is considered a trailblazer for Canadian women serving in combat roles.

Maj.-Gen. Jennie Carignan, the former commander of the NATO training mission in Iraq, in a recent interview.
Maj.-Gen. Jennie Carignan, the former commander of the NATO training mission in Iraq, in a recent interview. (CBC News)

Her career in the Canadian Armed Forces spans more than three decades. She enlisted in the Royal Military College of Canada in 1986, six years after RMC began admitting women.

In 2016, Carignan became the first woman from a combat arms trade to rise to the rank of general. She also has served in a number of top staff posts, including chief of staff to army operations at army headquarters.

Her overseas assignments include deployments to the Golan Heights, located between Syria and Israel, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. She led a task force of engineers in Kandahar from 2009 to 2010, at the height of the Taliban insurgency in the restive Afghan province.

Domestically, she led the emergency response efforts when Canadian troops were deployed to Quebec in 2019 to help communities cope with severe spring flooding. Later that year, she was appointed to lead NATO's training mission in Iraq.

Eyre said in January that he was planning to retire this summer after 40 years in uniform. At the time, the Prime Minister's Office congratulated him in a media statement and thanked him for his service.

Military facing recruitment, culture challenges

Carignan takes over the Canadian Armed Forces at a challenging time.

The military has been grappling with what a damning external report by Louise Arbour — a former justice of the Supreme Court and one-time UN high commissioner for human rights — called a toxic culture of sexual misconduct. Nearly a dozen leaders have been accused either of sexual impropriety or of downplaying abhorrent behaviour in recent years.

At the same time, the military is facing what Defence Minister Bill Blair acknowledged is a recruitment "death spiral."

Earlier this year, CBC News reported that only 58 per cent of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) would be able to respond if called upon in a crisis by NATO allies right now — and almost half of the military's equipment is considered "unavailable and unserviceable".

All the while, Canada is facing renewed pressure from allies — and from critics at home — to come up with a concrete plan to meet its defence spending commitments as a NATO ally. Canada is the only one of the 32 member nations that has not articulated a plan publicly to invest at least two per cent of gross domestic product in the military by the end of this decade.

But in June, Treasury Board President Anita Anand argued it doesn't make sense to pour vast amounts of money into the Department of National Defence until it has the capacity to spend what it's being given.

Earlier in the spring, the Liberal government's latest update to its defence policy pledged billions of dollars more in defence spending. But Canada's military spending is still only set to reach 1.76 per cent of GDP by the end of the decade.

LISTEN | Carignan speaks to CBC about being a Canadian general in Iraq in 2020