A Department of National Defence (DND) advisory panel has recommended barring individuals from the military chaplaincy whose organized religion’s beliefs do not align with the department’s equality and social justice values.

The Minister of National Defence Advisory Panel on Systemic Racism and Discrimination’s Final Report for January 2022 reads that “(i)t is necessary to recognize that for some Canadians religion can be a source of suffering and generational trauma. This is especially true for many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirited members of Canadian society.”

The panel’s first of four recommendations – contained beneath the heading of “Re-Defining Chaplaincy” – is blunt.

“Do not consider for employment as spiritual guides or multi-faith representatives Chaplaincy applicants affiliated with religious groups whose values are not aligned with those of the Defence Team.” 

A chaplain is a member of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) – as well as a member of a clergy – who provides CAF members with spiritual and personal guidance within the tradition of their own faiths.

The report excludes precise definitions for what constitutes acceptable religious leaders beyond vague rejections of “gender discrimination, anti-Indigenous discrimination, and racialized discrimination.” 

Although the report claims that it does not seek to “evaluate or categorize” religions it deems problematic, it names Christianity specifically, saying that “Christian religious leaders” are responsible for indigenous residential school programs.

“The Advisory Panel has observed that there are varying degrees of misogyny, sexism and discrimination woven into the philosophies and beliefs of some mainstream religions currently represented in the cadre of chaplains in the CAF,” the report reads. “This Advisory Panel does not seek to evaluate or categorize these religions in this report.”

The report bases its recommendation on claims that some “chaplains represent organized religions whose beliefs are not synonymous with those of a diverse and inclusive workplace.”

The advisory panel also writes that “some churches’ exclusion of women from their priesthoods violates principles of equality and social justice, as do sexist notions embedded in their religious dogmas.” 

“For example, some churches’ exclusion of women from their priesthoods violates principles of equality and social justice, as do sexist notions embedded in their religious dogmas,” the report reads.

 “In addition, certain faiths have strict tenets requiring conversion of those they deem to be “pagan,” or who belong to polytheistic religions. These faiths’ dogmas and practices conflict with the commitment of the Defence Team to value equality and inclusivity at every level of the workplace.”

The report even goes so far as to equate the exclusion of women from certain priesthoods with banning black people.

“It can be assumed that if a religion openly forbade a Black person to serve within its ranks, its members would be banned from the Chaplaincy in the CAF,” the report reads.

“The same scrutiny should be applied to those religions that forbid women to serve within their ranks or are against equal rights for same-sex couples.”

The report includes a recommendation to “review the selection process for chaplains to ensure that, in addition to listening skills, empathy and emotional intelligence, there is an intrinsic appreciation for diversity and a willingness to challenge one’s beliefs.”

“[The Defence Team] cannot justify hiring representatives of organizations who marginalize certain people or categorically refuse them from a position of leadership.”

Since 2021, the Canadian military has removed 13 senior military officials from active or former service due to accusations of sexual misconduct. 

Defence Minister Anita Anand has since apologized for that misconduct on behalf of the military.

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