Canada names Jennie Carignan as first woman to lead military

Canada’s prime minister announced on Wednesday the appointment of Lieutenant-General Jennie Carignan as the first woman to lead the G7 and Nato member nation’s military.

A highly decorated soldier and mother of four children, two of whom serve in the Canadian Armed Forces, Carignan will be promoted to the rank of general and take over from retiring General Wayne Eyre as chief of the Defence Staff at a ceremony on July 18.

“I am confident that, as Canada’s new chief of the Defence Staff, she will help Canada be stronger, more secure, and ready to tackle global security challenges,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

At a press conference in Montreal, he added that Carignan takes over the leadership of the military at a pivotal moment marked by “complicated geopolitics and increased threats”.

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Canadian Armed Forces Lieutenant-General Jennie Carignan poses in Ottawa, Ontario, in August 2021. Photo: Canadian Forces via Reuters

The Canadian Armed Forces are also grappling with a toxic culture described in a damning 2022 external report as “hostile to women … [and] conducive to more serious incidents of sexual harassment and assault”.

Carignan was tasked over the past three years with reforming this culture to be more respectful and inclusive, following hundreds of sexual misconduct accusations, including some against top brass.

Women make up 16 per cent of the Canadian military, according to government data.

Carignan grew up in the mining town of Asbestos, Quebec, as the daughter of a policeman and a teacher.

She joined the military in 1986, three years before Canada allowed women in combat roles.

Training as a combat engineer – a role in which soldiers clear bombs and erect and destroy battlefield structures – she rose quickly through the ranks, shattering preconceptions about women warriors.

She went on to become the first woman to lead a Canadian combat unit, deploying to Afghanistan where she narrowly avoided a suicide bomber as well as an improvised explosive device that mangled a vehicle in her convoy.

Carignan has also served in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Syria, led Nato’s training mission in Iraq from 2019 to 2020, and commanded the 2nd Canadian Division – the military’s largest regiment with more than 10,000 troops.

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