Politics·Exclusive

Vast majority of permanent residents applying to join military not accepted in 1st year of eligibility: data

The Canadian Armed Forces has received more than 21,000 applications from permanent residents eager to join the chronically understaffed military full time — but CBC News has learned that fewer than 100 of them have made it into the regular force in the year since they were allowed to sign up.

Applicants losing interest amid 18-24 month security check delays

jamal lupin
Permanent resident Jamal Ludin prepares for his aptitude test at the Canadian Armed Forces recruitment office in Ottawa. (Jean-François Benoit/CBC)

The Canadian Armed Forces has received more than 21,000 applications from permanent residents eager to join the chronically understaffed military full time — but CBC News has learned that fewer than 100 of them have made it into the regular force in the year since they were allowed to sign up.

In 2022, the federal government lifted a ban on permanent residents enlisting in the military after the country's top commander warned of a critical shortfall in personnel.

Gen. Wayne Eyre, chief of the defence staff, said that given the "significant number of demands around the world, there's just not enough Canadian Forces to do everything."

Out of 21,472 applications from permanent residents received between Nov. 1, 2022 and Nov. 24, 2023 (the first full year of eligibility), less than one per cent were accepted into the regular forces — just 77 people, according to the Department of National Defence.

And of the 6,928 permanent residents who applied to join the navy, army and air force reserves, just 76 were enrolled between Nov. 1, 2022 and Jan. 26, 2024, the department told CBC News.

Defence Minister Bill Blair said he's not satisfied with those numbers.

"I frankly think it's not good enough and it's potentially an opportunity lost," Blair told CBC News.

"I believe that there are very many of those permanent residents in Canada who would make outstanding members of the Canadian Armed Forces, and quite frankly, we need more people in the Canadian Armed Forces."

WATCH | Defence Minister Bill Blair says permanent resident recruitment isn't 'good enough':

Defence Minister Bill Blair says military recruitment of permanent residents is 'not good enough'

2 months ago
Duration 0:36
CBC News has learned that out of more than 21,000 permanent residents who applied to join the military, only 77 were accepted in a one-year period ending in November.

Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie, the commander overseeing military recruitment, said that the application "process takes time."

"Certainly it's frustrating, and we field those frustrations from candidates and from Canadians and from our own chain of command all the time," she told CBC News.

Brodie said permanent residents are told when they apply that it can take 18 to 24 months for Canada's security agencies to handle their files because they can require an "additional level of security screening" due to "foreign implications."

"At the end of the day, we have to be a combat-capable force ready to fight tonight, and so standards matter," Brodie said. "And when you're dealing with sensitive military equipment in a national security environment, those factors are really important."

About 15,000 permanent residents applying to the regular forces have walked away from the application process amid the wait, Brodie confirmed. 

WATCH | 'Standards matter' in military recruitment, brigadier-general says:

'Standards matter' in military recruitment, brigadier-general says

2 months ago
Duration 1:40
Brigadier-General Krista Brodie, who oversees military recruitment, says it takes 18 to 24 months for Canada’s security agencies to conduct security checks on permanent residents "for [a] good reason."

Blair said the recruitment process has to move faster.

He said he's asked his department to look at allowing permanent residents to serve on a probationary basis while they wait for their security checks to be completed.

"I've got some experience in this, in hiring in other organizations. You've got to go fast, you've got to go certainly faster than those numbers demonstrate," Blair said.


The Department of National Defence said an interdisciplinary working group is considering the minister's request.

The military has increased the number of applications it can process and is also looking to expedite the procedure by speeding up information-sharing between government departments, Brodie said.

"Multiple Government of Canada departments are involved in processing the files of permanent residents to join the Canadian Armed Forces — and we will be working with other government departments to ensure that more permanent residents of Canada can join the CAF," defence department spokesperson Alex Tétreault said in a statement to CBC News.

The military projects it could hit a shortfall of more than 7,750 regular force members and approximately 7,475 reserve members by the end of the fiscal year in March.

Brodie said that while the military is losing more people each year than it's bringing in, that problem is starting to stabilize. The military is "really close to the tipping point" where the numbers turn around and "gradually" start to build, she said.

Sgt. Cynthia St-Jean at Ottawa's Canadian Forces recruitment office said one of the biggest barriers facing permanent residents is the time they spend waiting for their security clearances.

Canadian citizens can get their pre-security forms back in about three months, if they have straightforward files, she said.

photo of a military recruitment center
Military recruiter Sgt. Cynthia St-Jean says one of the biggest barriers for permanent residents applying to join the military is the 18-to 24-month wait for security clearances. (Jean-François Benoit/CBC News)

"Since they don't have any travels outside the country, family outside the country, or banks or houses, it makes ... that background check much easier than [for] somebody that comes in with 20 years in a different country, some family members outside the country," said St-Jean, who is a recruiter.

"We do lose some applicants to the pre-security clearance form just because it is a lengthy time," she said. "But we do keep in contact with them. We try to say, 'Hey, your file is still open, this is still going, are you still interested?' So we try to keep them engaged."

Naval cadet Joseph Haddad said he was "very pleasantly surprised" when his application to join the navy's reserves was processed in three months. He came to Canada with family a decade ago because his father was on a diplomatic mission, he said.

"I believe the reason why my application didn't take as long is because I've been in Canada since 2012," said Haddad, who is now a Canadian citizen. "I also am a federal public servant at Canada Revenue Agency with clearance, so I believe that might have helped as well."

photo of joseph haddad
Naval cadet Joseph Haddad came to Canada from Lebanon in 2012 and has joined the Canadian Armed Forces' navy reserves. (Jean-François Benoit/CBC)

Faced with long delays, the majority of permanent residents applying for the regular forces lost interest and are no longer engaged in the application process, the military said.

Another 5,000 permanent resident applicants are still interested, Brodie said, calling it an "exciting number for us to work with."

"A significant portion of those permanent resident prospects are women, and I think that's also a positive indicator," Brodie said.

Jamal Ludin is one of the permanent residents waiting for his security clearance to come back. Before taking his aptitude test in Ottawa, Ludin told CBC News he wants to serve the country that took him in.

Ludin is from Afghanistan; he escaped aboard a military plane when Kabul fell in 2021 to the Taliban. After living in a NATO camp in Albania, he came to Canada in May 2022.

"I want to be a part of this society because they help me in my very bad situation," he said. "They take me and my sisters and family from a very difficult moment."

Jamal Lupin photo
Permanent resident Jamal Ludin is applying to become an administrator with the military's regular forces. (Jean-François Benoit/CBC)

Ludin's brother died in 2018 in Afghanistan, and his grieving mother later passed away of a stroke, he said.

He's currently supporting his family by doing deliveries and working at a school helping students with special needs. He also takes care of a sister with Down syndrome, he said.

Ludin said he's willing to wait up to two years for his security clearance to come back because he wants to make his family proud.

"My family always wanted to see me in uniform," he said.

WATCH | Permanent residents often require an extra level of security screening:

Majority of permanent-resident applications to military not accepted, data shows

2 months ago
Duration 2:17
The Canadian Armed Forces received more than 21,000 applications from permanent residents to join the military full time — but Department of National Defence data shows that fewer than 100 of them have made it into the regular forces in the first year since they became eligible.

Ludin said he also wants to become a Canadian citizen.

As an incentive, the government also announced in 2022 that citizenship applications from Canadian Armed Forces members would be processed on "a priority basis."

The government fast-tracked processing 22 citizenship applications from military members between Nov. 21, 2022 and Nov 30, 2023, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada told CBC News. Another 11 applications are outstanding as of December, the department said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ashley Burke

Senior reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with the CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. She was recognized with the Charles Lynch Award and was a finalist for the Michener Award for her exclusive reporting on the toxic workplace at Rideau Hall. She has also uncovered allegations of sexual misconduct involving senior leaders in the Canadian military. You can reach her confidentially by email: ashley.burke@cbc.ca

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