Section 3: The Profession of Arms in Canada

Based on this professional construct, the profession of arms in Canada can be described as follows:

  • The profession of arms in Canada is composed of military members dedicated to the defence of Canada and its interests, as directed by the Government of Canada. The profession of arms is distinguished by the concept of service before self, the lawful, ordered application of military force, and the acceptance of the concept of unlimited liability. Its members possess a systematic and specialized body of military knowledge and skills acquired through education, training and experience, and they apply this expertise competently and objectively in the accomplishment of their missions. Members of the Canadian profession of arms share a set of core values and beliefs found in the military ethos that guides them in the performance of their duty and allows a special relationship of trust to be maintained with Canadian society.

Since the military profession can only be practised collectively, and within the bounds set by the state, it is a very inclusive profession. All uniformed personnel fulfilling operational, support or specialist functions are considered military professionals, as they meet the criteria outlined below. In Canada, an individual becomes a member of the profession of arms by swearing the Oath of Allegiance and adopting the military uniform, thus establishing an essential distinctiveness in Canadian society. Thereafter, members demonstrate their professionalism by:

  • embracing the military ethos;
  • reaching and maintaining the point at which a member has achieved the requirements for first employment in an occupation and maintaining this qualification;
  • pursuing the highest standards of the required expertise; and
  • understanding, accepting and fulfilling all the commitments and responsibilities inherent in the profession of arms.

In the Canadian Forces, all non-commissioned members (NCMs), especially senior non-commissioned officers (Sr NCOs), warrant officers (WOs), petty officers and chief petty officers (POs and CPOs), share leadership responsibilities and are required to master complex skills and gain extensive knowledge of the theory of conflict. Therefore, and in accordance with the criteria listed, all regular force members of the CF, regardless of rank, are members of the profession of arms. Although not necessarily on full-time service, primary reserve members are an essential component of the nation’s military capability and meet the criteria, and thus are accorded professional status. On active duty, they assume the status and identity of full-time military professionals.

The inclusive nature of the profession of arms in Canada means that the professional relationship between officers and NCMs is one of the most important. Indeed, the very existence of these two corps reflects the extremely complex nature of the profession of arms and the need to organize and structure the profession to accommodate the many demands that it faces. Throughout the profession, responsibility and expertise are distributed between officers and NCMs in such a manner as to clearly define each and make the most effective contribution to accomplishing the mission.

The military profession in Canada also includes individuals, such as doctors or lawyers, who are members of other professions. They wear the uniform and accept the duties and responsibilities of membership in the profession of arms, and their specialized expertise is a great asset to the overall collective strength of the profession of arms. At the same time, they must also adhere to the codes and ethics of their primary profession. This duality creates the potential for a conflict of interest between doctor/patient confidentiality and the operational readiness of the unit, for example. Resolving these potential conflicts between competing professional requirements is one of the key functions of the officers who lead these specialist branches. (See Section Three for a more detailed treatment of dual professional status.)

Institutional Boundaries

In Canada, the profession of arms is embedded in the institution of the Canadian Forces and strongly influenced by history, political arrangements, constitutional constraints and international agreements. Military professionals operate within this institution in both the regular force and the primary reserve. In principle, the CF operates as an institutional entity separate from the Department of National Defence, in a relationship described in the National Defence Act (NDA), so they must work effectively with public servants as an integral part of a single defence team.

The Constitution Act of 1867 provides for establishing armed forces at the federal level. Their command, control and administration are set out in the NDA, and the Government of Canada determines their mandate, mission and roles in the defence of Canada through legislation and Cabinet direction.Footnote 4  Within the boundaries set by this assignment, the military professional must be able to conduct operations across the whole spectrum of national security—a fact that clearly requires military professionals to be constantly prepared to perform any lawful duty, including the application of disciplined lethal force, in the service of the nation.

The mandate, missions and roles of the Canadian Forces include support to other government departments and the provinces and territories. The Government of Canada regularly directs the CF to participate in a number of tasks in support of the wider government mandate, for example, in fisheries patrols and internal security.  In today’s complex, non-linear security environment, fully integrated operations, referred to as “Whole of Government” or “Comprehensive” operations, are the norm. This involves close collaboration with a number of other civilian security partners from the strategic through the operational to even the tactical level.

Conducting military operations remains the CF’s overriding purpose, however, and this shapes the fighting identity of Canada’s military professionals. It also delineates the profession’s responsibility to the government and to society and dictates the expertise necessary for the success of operations. The values and beliefs of the profession of arms, expressed and communicated by the Canadian military ethos, are also clearly shaped by the CF’s unique and special role. 

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