Part 1 – The Importance of Trust

Military service is a privilege and is founded upon the trusted relationship that the CAF builds with Canadians, the Government, and those within the Defence Team. Those who trust the CAF have confidence in our professional military advice and service because they recognize our purpose, character and commitment to deliver successful results.

Trust is built through a commitment to character and competence. Character requires the ability to consistently live by a set of defining values and principles that shape one’s conduct and judgement. Competence leads to the professional excellence needed to provide military advice and service that result in success, time and again.

The benefits of trust are wide-ranging. Trust enables those in uniform to work together within a common purpose and intent, rather than prescriptive orders, and this fosters professional creativity while maximizing efficiency and success. Also, mutual trust between military members creates the cohesion necessary for teams to succeed in the face of adversity. Lastly, the institution’s trustworthiness allows the CAF greater flexibility in managing its affairs.

Trust takes time and energy to build through principled character and excellence in professional competence. However, trust is fragile and can quickly erode through weakness of character or an inability to deliver results. We must therefore prioritize strength of character and professional excellence in who we are and what we do as a Profession of Arms.


High-character organizations tend towards success and do so consistently over time. As volunteers, each of us comes to the military with our own character based on the values and principles which, to that point, have defined us. An evidenced-based understanding of character reveals that strength of character can and must be intentionally developed through an essential set of behaviours that are underpinned by our ethical principles and values. Intentionally developed character determines how we make choices and conduct ourselves. It is our individual level of commitment to a set of principled behaviours that determines our strength of character. However, one’s character is not static. Our character is always evolving while we are working; for example, becoming more courageous or less courageous, or developing more humility or less humility. The ethical principles and military values described in Part 2 of the CAF Ethos require that all military members commit to and develop strength of character within themselves.


As professionals, military members are expected to continuously develop their level of professional competence as they progress in rank and experience. Excellence in our individual occupations is required to excel as military teams to ensure mission success. Professional competence demands a lifelong commitment to learning and both the drive and humility to pursue continuous improvement in ourselves. The professional expectations described in Part 2 of the CAF Ethos frame the professional competence that all military members must strive to achieve.

The Purpose and Function of the Canadian Armed Forces’ Ethos

CAF personnel who embody and live our military ethos allow our profession to operate with the trust of those within the organization, with the trust of the Government of Canada, and of Canadians.

Canada as a country is made stronger because of its diversity and commitment to equity and inclusion, and so is the CAF. Diversity, equity and inclusion are so critical to CAF effectiveness that they are set as professional virtues and a key part of our military ethos. The DND and CF Code of Values and Ethics emphasizes a supporting hierarchy of ethical principles that underpin our ethos: first, respect the dignity of all persons, then serve Canada before self, and finally obey and support lawful authority. We take these principles into the heart of our ethos.

The CAF Ethos also serves other essential functions. Military leaders must have a thorough understanding of the CAF Ethos to guide their decisions as they apply the full spectrum of military force. Over two millennia ago, Thucydides wrote that war is a violent teacher. When faced with the most vicious and barbaric of circumstances, the CAF Ethos gives our members a touchstone upon which to consider their decisions and actions.

Military decisions are often made in complex circumstances, with incomplete knowledge, under significant time constraints and considerable moral pressure. While competence is a requirement for decision-making, competence alone is insufficient. Strength of character needs to inform the moral component of decision-making. Canadians rightfully expect military personnel to lead by demonstrating professionalism in all decisions and actions.

The CAF Ethos also enhances professional conduct and performance because its principles, values and expectations reinforce selflessness, duty and the team. It unifies our personnel under one value system focused on achieving the military objectives chosen by the Government of Canada. Because it is a value system, the CAF Ethos creates and shapes a desired professional culture that then builds trust. The goal is to live the CAF Ethos to such a degree that we view all behaviours, decisions and actions through its lens.

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