Governor General laments Canadians’ lack of military awareness

On the eve of his final Remembrance Day, David Johnston reflects on his experience with the Canadian Armed Forces

Canada's Governor General David Johnston at Rideau Hall in Ottawa April 13, 2016. (Photograph by Blair Gable)

Canada’s Governor General David Johnston at Rideau Hall in Ottawa April 13, 2016. (Photograph by Blair Gable)

OTTAWA – David Johnston had been Governor General for a month when he flew to Afghanistan to visit the Canadian troops in Kandahar in November 2010.

During the trip, Johnston met a senior U.S. military officer who praised the Canadians’ battle prowess, but also their ability to “take off the warrior hat” and help rebuild after natural disasters and conflict.

Six years later, with Canadians preparing to mark Remembrance Day, Johnston says he has seen that attribute over and over again during his time in office.

“They’re good warriors,” he told The Canadian Press in an interview. “But they have another mindset which has to do with fundamental values of making your society work.”

But Johnston worries that despite a high level of respect, most Canadians don’t know about that unique ability — or much else about the military and those who serve in it.

Soldiers and military personnel routinely place near the top of opinion polls asking Canadians which professions they respect the most.

Annual surveys conducted for the Department of National Defence in recent years have similarly shown overwhelming levels of support for the military among the public.

But the National Defence polls also found public awareness has dropped off since the end of the Afghan war, with many Canadians having only limited familiarity of the Canadian Armed Forces.

MORE: An excerpt from David Johnston’s book

Johnston’s term as Governor General is set to expire next September, meaning Friday will be his last Remembrance Day as commander-in-chief.

He said he had a high level of respect for those in uniform before taking office and that has grown to admiration over the last six years.

“We’re very fortunate in the quality of people that we attract into military service in Canada,” he said.

“I’ve seen first-hand how those old-fashioned virtues of duty, honour and service are real and lived out every day. And I recognize that these are people who sign up to face danger. Not to avoid it, but face it head on.”

Johnston’s time at Rideau Hall coincided with a period of great change for the Canadian Armed Forces.

The combat mission in Afghanistan came to a close. Budget cuts and delayed procurement projects raised questions about its long-term capabilities. And concerns about sexual misconduct and the treatment of those with mental injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder bubbled to the forefront.

While Johnston is military commander-in-chief, his wife Sharon was appointed last June as the honorary naval captain of military personnel, a post in which she has focused on PTSD and similar injuries.

While the armed forces have made progress on mental health, the Governor General said there are still examples of soldiers being told to “suck it up,” and that the perceived stigma over admitting to a mental injury needs to be eliminated.

“We need to do more,” he said. “I don’t think we should underestimate the difficult of dealing with the sort of taboo or the kind of silence about it.”


Governor General laments Canadians’ lack of military awareness

  1. That’s because we don’t want to be ‘military’

    • Our Military has never been the same ever since it was botched up by that crazy Liberal Paul Hellyer.

      I’m sure you remember him. He was Minister of Defence under Trudeau Sr. He’s still a Liberal Minister with a seat on the Privy Council.

      He’s that same Paul Hellyer that claims he’s the head of an alien race. In fact he’s the highest ranking public official ANYWHERE to tell us that aliens live among us. Not just one alien mind you – oh no – he insists that there are 80 species.

      You can see why our military has taken a downward spiral and never recovered from that. Isn’t it lovely what our tax $$$ pay for?

      • I was in the military at the time chip….and the fact he has dementia now is neither here nor there.

        Canadians were never ‘military’…..and still aren’t

        • Thanks for serving our country Emily.

          Mr. Hellyer did not have dementia when he was Minister of Defense in the 60’s and flying around the world claiming Canada needed to prepare for UFOs. That is a sorry excuse. Face it – he was the worse Minister of Defense ever and the military never recovered.

          The fact that he has dementia NOW though would make one question the role of the Privy Council, its membership (including Tom Mulcair) and its ability to provide sober counsel to the PM.