Homosexual Personnel Policy in the Canadian Forces: Did Lifting the Gay Ban Undermine Military Performance?

Article excerpt

AS THE NUMBER OF COUNTRIES THAT PERMIT GAY and lesbian soldiers to serve in the armed forces grows, it is increasingly important to determine whether official decisions to include homosexual service members in the military lead to changes in organizational performance. Although most member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), along with a handful of other nations, allow gay and lesbian soldiers to serve, there has been little empirical analysis of whether the decision to lift a gay ban influences the ability of armed forces to pursue their missions. Theoretical studies have addressed this topic, but there has been no in-depth empirical work on the consequences of a decision to lift a gay ban.

Canada is a case in point. A few careful studies appeared in the immediate aftermath of Canada's decision in 1992 to abolish restrictions on gay and lesbian soldiers. However, the long-term impact of the new policy could not be determined in those early studies, and even the most thorough analyses was based on few sources.(f.1) In 1993, an American officer, Lt Gen Calvin Waller, stated that because Canada had not been involved in armed conflict since the ban was lifted: 'We really do not know what those results are going to be.'(f.2) Our rationale for considering the evidence that has accumulated over the eight years since the ban was lifted is that senior Canadian officials predicted that changing the policy might compromise military effectiveness. Hence, the Canadian experience affords an opportunity to assess the impact of the policy change against early forecasts by senior military leaders. After discussing the historical evolution of homosexual personnel policy in Canada, we examine whether Canada's decision to abolish restrictions on gay and lesbian soldiers influences military effectiveness. Our findings, based on a review of primary and secondary sources, as well as interviews with 29 military personnel and experts from the academic, non-governmental, and policy communities, is that Canada's decision to lift its gay ban had no impact on military performance, readiness, cohesion, or morale.(f.3)

HISTORICAL EVOLUTION OF HOMOSEXUAL PERSONNEL POLICY

Before 1988, gays and lesbians were prohibited from serving in the Canadian Forces. The military did not allow openly gay recruits to enlist, dismissed soldiers who were discovered to be homosexual, and required service members who suspected another soldier of being gay to inform their commanding officer. The pre-1988 policy, outlined in regulation CFAO 19-20, 'Homosexuality-Sexual Abnormality-Investigation, Medical Examination and Disposal,' stated: 'Service policy does not allow homosexual members or members with a sexual abnormality to be retained in the Canadian forces.(f.4)

Military policy dealing with homosexual service members came under increasing judicial and political scrutiny after the passage of the Canadian Human Rights Act in 1978 and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1985. Although the Human Rights Act did not cover sexual orientation explicitly, it did require employers to justify exclusionary or restrictive policies. Nor was sexual orientation included in the enumerated list of prohibited grounds for discrimination in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 15 of the charter did, however, allow the restriction of other forms of discrimination if the courts so ruled.

A Department of Justice review of federal regulations in 1985 determined that the Canadian Forces were in potential violation of the equal rights provisions of the charter in a number of areas, including discrimination against gays and lesbians. In response to the Department of justice findings, the Department of National Defence (DND) conducted a survey of 6,580 soldiers, which found that military personnel, particularly men, were strongly against removing the gay ban. Service members expressed concern about all aspects of serving with gays and lesbians: 62 per cent of male soldiers stated that they would refuse to share showers with or undress or sleep in the same room as a gay soldier, and 45 per cent declared that they would refuse to work with gays. …