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Canadian Military Journal [Vol. 22, No. 3, Summer 2022]
Profession of Arms

Cover of Canadian Armed Forces Ethos: Trusted to Serve

Guilherme Martinelli has been a federal public service employee since 2007 and has worked in a variety of government departments as a social science researcher. He is currently working for the Canadian Defence Academy, Professional Concepts and Leader Development Section, in a range of doctrine-related topics. He completed a Master’s in Sociology with Specialization in Survey Methodology at the University of Waterloo.

William (Bill) G. Cummings served as an Infantry Officer in the Canadian Armed Forces for 36 years before retiring. Since 2020 he has been employed with the Professional Concepts and Leader Development Section at the Canadian Defence Academy, working on CAF common doctrine.

Mélanie Denis, B.Sc., has been with the federal public service for over 20 years, many of them with the Canadian Forces Leadership Institute. Now, as a Managing Editor with the Professional Concepts and Leader Development team of the Canadian Defence Academy, she works on the communication aspects of the leadership and profession of arms doctrine that is created for the CAF.

Thomas Kent Gregory, CD, served in the Royal Canadian Navy for 37 years as a Finance Clerk and a Resource Management Support Clerk, before retiring in September 2021 as the Base Chief Petty Officer of Canadian Forces Base Halifax. Immediately following his retirement, he joined the Professional Concepts and Leadership Development team at the Canadian Defence Academy.

Captain Lee T. Jarratt is a Training Development Officer and is currently in her twenty-ninth year with the Canadian Armed Forces. Since 2020, she has been employed as a Research Officer in the Professional Concepts and Leader Development Section at the Canadian Defence Academy, where she works on CAF common doctrine.

Special contributions: C. Thibault, D. Buchanan and D. Beyer


Much like its predecessor ethosFootnote 1 embedded within Duty with Honour: The Profession of Arms in Canada (2009), the Canadian Armed Forces Ethos: Trusted to Serve was written during a tumultuous time in Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) history. This article aims to capture the strategic evolution of the CAF Ethos during this period (2018–2022) and outline the key challenges and opportunities that this renewal has afforded.


Duty with Honour: The Profession of Arms in CanadaFootnote 2 (DwH: PoA) was first developed in 2003 as a response to many professional issues that were exposed during operations in the 1990s. One of the contentions that arose from the Commission of Inquiry into the deployment of Canadian Forces to Somalia was that the “ethos of the Canadian Forces is weakening.”Footnote 3 This and other issues precipitated a short-lived but significant Ministerial Monitoring Committee to oversee the progress of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) senior leadership implementation of proposed reformsFootnote 4 as directed in then Minister of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Douglas Young’s 1997 report to the Prime Minister. One of the key recommendations from that report was to establish a formal ethos for the profession.Footnote 5 As a response, DwH was written to primarily codify the Canadian profession of arms as a legitimate profession with a succinct ethos and sought to frame its organization, societal functions and relationships, and how it adapts to future challenges. The publication of DwH was well received at the time by Canadians and allies alike, and to this day it remains a respected part of the canon of Canadian profession of arms doctrine.

Significant changes to military structure, as well as a full commitment to combat and stability force capacity building in Southern Afghanistan in 2006–2009, drove minor updates to DwH in 2009. These updates included the description of a military functionally organized around commands and added physical fitness as a new fundamental belief and expectation. From the initial introduction of DwH in 2003 until 2014, the military was extraordinarily occupied with prosecuting the NATO campaign in Afghanistan. In addition, 2013–2014 brought new resource challenges as the CAF actively implemented a Governmental Strategic Review and Deficit Reduction Action Plan which saw significant reductions in the Department of National Defence (DND) budget.Footnote 6 One such impact was the complete elimination of the Canadian Defence Academy (CDA) Canadian Forces Leadership Institute (CFLI), the organization which had produced DwH and all CAF foundational leadership doctrine.

In 2015, the Justice DeschampsFootnote 7 inquiry into sexual misconduct in the Canadian military revealed a highly sexualized subculture within the CAF that had led to substantial military sexual trauma, as had been highlighted in prior media reports from 1998Footnote 8 and 2014.Footnote 9 Adding to the climate at the time were no less than four class action lawsuits against National Defence and Veterans Affairs, two of which have since been resolved. A class action lawsuit initiated in 2017 based on discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual assault allegationsFootnote 10 received nearly 19,000 claims.Footnote 11 Another class action addressing the wrongs of the CAF’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirit (LGBTQ2) purge came to a head in 2018 with 629 military claimants.Footnote 12 A class action lawsuit launched in 2016 related to systemic racism in the CAF remains to be settled,Footnote 13 as does one filed in 2019 by approximately 300,000 class members against Veterans Affairs alleging miscalculation of disability benefits.Footnote 14 As part of CAF efforts to address the harmful subcultures that led to such class actions, the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) ordered the renewal of DwH.

Renewing Duty with Honour: The Profession of Arms in Canada (2009)

In May 2018, the CDS issued a directive to renew the 2009 version of DwH. The directive clearly framed the rationale for renewal. Much change had occurred within the CAF, and similar changes outside the CAF presented significant challenges. In this environment, initiatives such as Operation HONOUR to combat sexual misconduct; new policies on diversity, health and wellness, and suicide prevention; and initiatives to improve recruitment, transition and employment equity were evolving CAF culture. The contemporary security environment had become more complex, with pervasive 24-hour news cycles, child soldiers, and a diversifying and active set of adversaries. The CDS directive required that the CAF Ethos stay in step with such change and that it inform new leadership doctrine. Significant shifts in societal fabric were having an impact on our people and needed consideration if the renewal initiative was to succeed in articulating the expected professional conduct and behaviour in a way that would be clear and compelling for the next generation of military recruits. The CDS directive mandated comprehensive consultation with all key stakeholders and a novel methodology, starting from a series of cross-country face-to-face consultations with military personnel from all ranks.

During the 2019 cross-country tour, consultations were held with close to 2,000 personnel in uniform, from Sailor 3rd Class/Private to Commodore/Brigadier-General. Based on those consultations, a new version of the Profession of Arms (PoA) document was produced in February 2020 for the CDS to review. Several themes had emerged from the consultations; the most prominent were that the publication needed to be more clearly articulated in language that would resonate with junior ranks and that, as pointed out by the junior ranks, accountability was applied unevenly across ranks. After much consultation and analysis, the renewed and reorganized draft was a minor evolution of the 2009 publication. The final draft publication never made it to the CDS’s desk for review; instead, due to changes in 2020 to functional authorities for professional development, it was reviewed by the Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff (VCDS).Footnote 15

Change in Focus for the Renewal

Led by the VCDS, the Armed Forces Management Board (AFMB) revitalized the focus for the Profession of Arms publication renewal. This October 2020 engagement provided critical guidance that resulted in a significant reorientation for the publication. Renewed emphasis was placed on the profession’s desired military culture, the level of language was changed from academic to applied in order to better connect with and inspire those in uniform, and it was directed that the document not be longer than about 50 pages.

The global COVID-19 pandemic also brought other changes in 2020. The pandemic radically altered the Professional Concepts Team’s working methods.Footnote 16 Virtual workspaces rapidly replaced the business travel and face-to-face meetings that had been the modus operandi of earlier cross-country consultation and collaboration efforts. The team was faced with adjusting its working methodology to adapt to the new environment and the reorientation of focus for the publication, but first an assessment of AFMB’s redirection had to be considered.

Initial Assessment

Re-invigorated guidance from AFMB provided the catalyst for a significant departure from previous reviews of DwH. Research and analysis led to several insights. DwH was primarily designed as an educational text rather than a user’s guide for its ethos and hence was intentionally academic in tone.Footnote 17 This insight was reinforced by the fact that DwH did not devote much space to its ethos: only 10 pages out of 84. Further analysis revealed that although the 2003 and 2009 versions had been published and distributed, they had never been adequately socialized, which was a fundamental mistake for a normative doctrine. One might argue that the CAF was too busy with operations in Afghanistan (2001–2014) to implement a socialization program for DwH, despite any good intentions. The reality was that the leadership of the CFLI and that of the CDA at the time prioritized the publishing of books by the Canadian Defence Academy Press over publishing doctrine.Footnote 18 This reaffirmed that the renewal of the CAF Ethos demanded a vigorous socialization plan if the CAF was to align existing military culture more closely with that of a renewed ethos.

DND/CAF photo by Corporal Keith Wazny/Task Force Kandahar, Afghanistan

Members of the Canadian Operational Mentor and Liaison Team (OMLT) and Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) personnel speak with local children and village residents while on a dismounted foot patrol in the Panjwa’i District during Operation ATHENA, 25 October 2010.

The team found that all doctrine which guides desired military culture, otherwise known as professional conduct and performance (professionalism), resides in five separate documents, namely the CF and DND Code of Values and Ethics,Footnote 19 DwH, and three leadership doctrine publications: Conceptual FoundationsFootnote 20, Leading the PeopleFootnote 21 and Leading the Institution.Footnote 22 The team’s assessment was that in order to achieve AFMB’s direction, all relevant doctrine would have to be curated from those five documents and integrated into one concise publication to focus the CAF on professionalism. As a result, the renewed ethos comprises ethical principles in addition to military values and professional expectations, because it has taken in the whole of the DND and CF Code of Values and Ethics as well as adding new elements.Footnote 23

A review of where the CAF teaches DwH, and hence ethos, revealed additional gaps. For example, even though it was introduced on every professional development (PD) course for career progression, it was questionable whether DwH enjoyed the same engagement in unit lines. This was confirmed through the team’s cross-country consultation in 2019. In fact, the Deschamps Report had revealed in 2015 that subcultures antithetical to the CAF Ethos were allowed to grow and fester within such units. That is not surprising, as there has always been a discontinuity between what is taught and what is practised throughout the institution. Such evidence demonstrates that teaching the ethos solely on PD courses is insufficient to ensure that everyone understands and fully commits to living by the 2009 ethos. The renewed CAF Ethos would have to be reinforced not only in training and educational courses but also in other professional development areas such as employment experience (unit lines) and through self-development (personal) areas if it was to have greater effect than previous ethos publications on CAF operant culture and professionalism.Footnote 24

The initial assessment drove the team’s new direction towards a more holistic approach to propagating professionalism across the CAF via its ethos. The team realized the need for more than just a broad academic textbook for PD courses and conceived of a bespoke CAF Ethos user handbook bringing all behavioural doctrine related to the ethos into one publication. In addition, it realized the need to support socialization across the employment experience and self-development areas of professional development with relevant digital multi-media content for consumption on ubiquitous smartphones and tablets. This initial analysis framed the direction for the renewed ethos.

However, if the renewed CAF Ethos were to take shape more purposefully than previously, the team needed to adopt a different consultation process in line with the CDS Directive but adapted to the new pandemic environment. A series of virtual tiered reviews were scheduled for 2021, beginning within the CDA, spiralling out to subject matter experts and vested stakeholders across DND to gain consensus, moving up the chains of command starting at deputy commanders of level 1 commands to ensure its socialization, and eventually being sent to AFMB for endorsement, then to the CAF leadership team for approval, the CDS and the CAF Chief Warrant Officer (CWO). Final endorsement was sought from the Minister of National Defence.

Change in Strategic Climate

The consultative development process to produce a renewed CAF Ethos in line with AFMB direction proved quite non-linear due to several challenges and shifts in the strategic climate within DND in 2021. High-profile misconduct allegations that generated media coverage from February 2021 onwards created significant pressure to reconsider in toto the elements within the 2009 CAF Ethos. The crisis in public confidence created around the office of the CDS and General Officers caused the subsequent phasing out of Operation HONOUR (now The Path to Dignity and Respect). The use of the term “honour” no longer resonated within the CAF. Consequently, the team pivoted to focus the publication on the more humble concept of trust, and the renewed CAF Ethos was re-titled the Canadian Armed Forces Ethos: Trusted to Serve (TtS). The vast majority of the consultative process took place in a highly charged media environment. While it would be impossible to quantify the impact of that climate on the development of a renewed CAF Ethos, it was glaringly evident that the status quo was no longer acceptable. This change in environment produced considerable challenges, but it also provided considerable opportunities to bring the CAF Ethos into the 21st century.

Challenges and Opportunities

The challenges and opportunities are largely presented here in the order in which they arose, so as to contextualize them within the team’s review process and in line with public events as they unfolded. They range from the conceptual to the specific and from the significant to the minor in nature. All are important evolutions in the CAF Ethos if we are to move the profession forward towards a better future. The benefits of incorporating inclusion have already been borne out through subsequent Chief of Professional Conduct and Culture (CPCC) initiatives related to inclusive teams and inclusive leadership.

DND/CAF photo by Corporal Gary Calvé

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces and the Jamaican Defence Forces Disaster Assistance Response Team load supplies into the CC-130J Hercules in Kingston, Jamaica during Operation RENAISSANCE IRMA-MARIA, 27 September 2017.

Target Audience. From the outset, the team understood that it would be necessary to diverge from traditional doctrinal or academic texts. Previous efforts were reviewed, stripped of language that excluded or was seen as service-centric, and completely rewritten more naturally and in a way that would make them instinctively applicable. Repeated reviews by academic experts and members of the defence team refined the discussion of ethics, re-examined all of the content from an intersectional (Gender-based Analysis Plus, or GBA+) perspective, and ruthlessly eliminated linguistic flourishes. Terms that were overly academic, self-righteous or grandiose, or had religious connotations, such as “ideology,” “beliefs” and, in French, “abnegation,” were removed; beliefs and expectations became professional expectations. Part of this rationale was that a belief cannot be seen unless it is manifested in behaviours; therefore, this renewed ethos focuses only on the observable. Various departmental sections, such as the Defence Advisory Groups and the Anti-Racism Secretariat, were consulted to harmonize with other programs and policies and ensure that the publication’s terminology was as inclusive as possible.

“Warrior”. Through the release of the Brereton ReportFootnote 25 in November 2020, the team became aware of the contentious nature of the term “warrior.” That initial awareness was then refined through interpretation and discussion by Dr. David Whetham,Footnote 26 Dr. Christopher AnkersenFootnote 27 and Dr. Christian Breede,Footnote 28 and it became apparent that “warrior” is a loaded term. The Brereton Report was clear in indicating that a key factor in the war crimes perpetrated by the Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) in Afghanistan was the development of a “warrior hero” subculture that believed itself exceptional and above ordinary rules and oversight.Footnote 29 For some, feeling like a “warrior” can be energizing and full of positive meaning. However, for many, it is an exclusionary term and one that can easily be taken out of context. Moreover, through the Concepts Team’s 2019 cross-country consultation and in its 2021 consultations and tiered review, “warrior” was generally not seen as a unifying term across all services in the CAF. The original CDS direction was to retain the term, but subsequent consideration and decisions led to excluding it from any further drafts.

Inclusion. It was clear that, as the CAF struggled to deal with both historic and recent issues of sexism, racism and discrimination related to sexual preference or identity, diversity and inclusion would be issues of significant import. The initial focus on “diversity” covered the well-understood benefits of diverse teams, both internally and externally, but over time, with the help of the Dallaire Centre of Excellence for Peace and Security (DCoE-PS), this shifted to “inclusion.” Inclusion refers to each service member who joins a team being received in a manner that allows them to bring themselves, their talents, their life experience and eventually their potential to bear in the service of Canada. A contributing factor to this discussion was a side activity undertaken with the DCoE-PS in early March of 2021 dealing with culture change in the CAF as a response to sexual misconduct allegations against two very senior officers. This side activity, as directed by Comd MPC, was to develop a product on culture change for all CAF personnel to consume in order to raise awareness on issues affecting culture. The team’s research into why the CAF’s operant culture was not entirely in line with its ethos to develop this product influenced the addition of inclusion into the draft manuscript.Footnote 30

Imagery. Diversity of imagery had always been a requirement for the renewed ethos, in order to ensure a visual representation of various services, occupations, roles, diversity and demographics. Although DwH had contained diverse images, the overall look and feel were Army-centric. Therefore, attention was paid to ensuring that the photography was indicative of more aspirational demographics and a more representative set of work environments and functions. The Concepts Team made a great effort in the design and layout stages to ensure that the look and feel of the publication were more inclusive of all military members.

Readiness and Physical Fitness. For the renewal to be effective, extant elements within the CAF Ethos needed to be reconsidered. One such element was physical fitness. Though vital to the effective functioning of the profession of arms, the requirement to be physically fit was not considered sufficiently robust to stand on its own. Rather than over-focusing on the appearance of physical fitness as a proxy of health, a more holistic approach was taken, emphasizing all facets of health and wellness, including bona fide operational requirements of mental, spiritual and physical fitness and resilience, as a complete package. Thus, the CAF Ethos was brought into alignment with that of the recently released Defence Team Total Health and Wellness Strategy.Footnote 31 In line with the strategy, the organization needs physically, mentally and spiritually fit and resilient people and teams who are able to endure the hardships of service to achieve mission success. Ultimately, readiness is what the CAF seeks to achieve: the full potential of its people and its military capabilities as a holistic goal in preparation for duty, wherever that may be.

DND/CAF photo by Master Sailor Dan Bard/Canadian Forces Combat Camera

Clearance Divers from Fleet Diving Unit Pacific and port inspection divers from the Royal Canadian Navy conduct mine countermeasure missions on the ocean floor in the area of Juneau, Alaska during Exercise ARCTIC EDGE 2022, 8 March 2022.

Leadership. Leadership is defined as directing, motivating and enabling others to accomplish the mission professionally and ethically, while developing and improving capabilities that contribute to mission success.Footnote 32 The team included “leadership” as a critical professional expectation. (Surprisingly, it had been omitted from previous works.) The key to framing this concept for the profession was to emphasize that leadership is a responsibility for everyone in uniform regardless of rank. Whether sailor, soldier, aviator or operator, a military professional must understand that, for the CAF to be genuinely effective, leadership can and must be demonstrated by all. This is a more inclusive and empowering framing of leadership so that all might be encouraged to influence those around them for the better—meaning better in terms of conduct as well as performance. Leadership is also emphasized in leaders’ responsibilities regarding the ethos, both on operations and institutionally.Footnote 33 The responsibility of embodying and reinforcing the CAF Ethos is rightfully placed upon all leaders’ shoulders, while institutional leaders bear the additional responsibility of ensuring that all institutional policies, programs and regulations are in line with the ethos.

Accountability. The notion of “accountability” permeated DwH, and it is now a new military value in TtS. The key values for its inclusion were the responses from the team’s cross-country tour in 2019 regarding disparity in the application of accountability depending on rank, as well as AFMB’s endorsement. The framing of this new military value is closely aligned to that of leadership. Its message is clear: everyone, regardless of rank, must be responsible for their actions and inaction, and accountable for them to their chain of command. Members of the profession need to come together and help one another fulfill this vital obligation in a healthy manner. Though the ethos states that leaders have the highest level of accountability, together with responsibility and authority, the profession of arms belongs to all serving members, who must hold each other to account for the health of the profession, even in difficult circumstances where subordinates are left to ensure that their superiors are also held accountable.

Incorporation of Behavioural Tables. TtS was originally intended to contain specific examples of CAF personnel who best exemplified the ethos. However, challenges and complications associated with finding such examples proved too troublesome, and that approach was quickly abandoned in favour of another. An external scan of other militaries’ ethoses enabled the team to draw inspiration from Way of the New Zealand Warrior.Footnote 34 The New Zealand Army Ethos contains a clear and visually appealing discussion on acceptable and unacceptable behaviours and provides short, realistic examples of military duty in addition to personal examples. This NZ Army document greatly inspired the two matrices presented in TtS.

External Review. As the manuscript underwent the approval process, the CDS and the CAF CWO recognized in August 2021 that an external review was necessary. Given that TtS was to be accessible to the public, it had to be clearly understood by and resonate with Canadians. Dr. Elspeth Murray and Dr. Stéfanie von Hlatky from Queen’s University and Dr. Mary Crossan from Western University generously reviewed the manuscript and provided valuable input to ensure that it would connect with Canadian society as a whole.

Character. The CDS and the CAF CWO also directed that the concept of character be incorporated into the ethos. They viewed the many allegations of misconduct in the media in 2021 as failures of character which needed addressing. The CDS, as the head of the profession of arms, made it abundantly clear that character is just as important as competence in generating trust. Dr. Crossan, as an expert on character, engaged further to clarify the concept fully.Footnote 35 One of her key ideas was that character can be measured and hence deliberately developed. This was combined with author Stephen Covey’s trust model, whereby trust is created through a combination of character and competence.Footnote 36 Using this model of character and competence to frame the ethos, the team had to re-align its various ethos elements to best fit with the model.

Photo: DND/CAF photo by Cpl Andrew Wesley, Directorate of Army Public Affairs LF03-2017-0152-001

Sergeant Moogly Tetrault-Hamel carries the Canadian Armed Forces Eagle Staff at the Indigenous Sunrise Ceremony in honour of the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid in Dieppe, France, 18 August 2017.

Implementation Plan. After all of the research, thought, consultation and direction, there remained a real concern that the document would be left to gather dust alongside other capstone doctrine, pulled out only to refresh a master lesson plan every few years. To be an effective tool for effecting culture change, TtS could not be left to a few keen scholars and military professionals to discover—and it certainly could not become yet another mandatory, page-flipping distance-learning course. Instead, its publication is to be accompanied by informal, ongoing, periodic but continual discussion within military units, between leaders, subordinates and peers. The CAF Ethos must be an integral, living part of the experience of being a sailor, soldier, aviator or operator. It provides a metric against which one will measure one’s own and others’ actions—successful or not—and judge them accordingly. To that end, considerable investment has been made in progressively complex digital and print content to enrich and support contemplation, discussion and learning. The success of TtS will not be measured in copies printed, or even in copies read, but in the ongoing quality of ethos-related discussions, even after mandated discussion sessions have ended.


Duty with Honour remains an excellent guide to the profession of arms in Canada. Re-writing it was initially seen as a simple update to reflect a few changed expectations and lessons learned, but it quickly became apparent that a prolonged, deliberate and deep dive to produce a CAF Ethos was imperative. The tumultuous experience that the CAF has gone through over the last several years has only served to challenge, refine, and re-emphasize the import of a cohesive CAF Ethos.

The growing change of climate within the CAF since the publication of the Deschamps Report, as well as the most recent allegations of misconduct at the highest levels of the CAF, have certainly influenced the tone and approach of this renewed ethos. The message within this ethos is clear. It is empowering to all ranks as members of the profession of arms that they have equal agency in this profession: agency to respectfully hold each other to account and agency to make the necessary changes to ensure the health and reputation of the profession, both on and off duty. The key to success will be developing everyone’s strength of character, given that the vast majority of those in uniform are already competent in their occupations and trades.

This renewed ethos represents a logical and coherent evolution of the profession of arms. DwH speaks of balancing continuity and change; TtS reflects continuity with an ethos worthy of the past but is aimed at moving CAF professional culture forward. None of the elements that would have formed an ethos worthy of those who fought in the Great War or the Second World War has been removed. Instead, elements and concepts have been added in areas where the CAF needs to evolve if it is to realize its envisioned future as a relevant and professional institution in the eyes of Canadians and the nation.

Authors’ Note

The authors offer sincere thanks to all those who attended meetings, participated in consultations, shared opinions, advanced ideas and generously reviewed the various versions of the manuscript as it evolved. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not necessarily represent the official policy or position of the Canadian Armed Forces or the Department of National Defence. Address all correspondence to:

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