On July 11, 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in Brussels, Belgium, that Canada will expand “[its] leadership role by assuming command of a new NATO training and capacity building mission in Iraq for its first year.” Canada has participated in several missions to train and build the capacity of nations who endure conflict or instability.

One of the goals of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) is to protect Canadian security, interests and values, insofar as being engaged in international peace missions. It is, thus, fundamental for Canada to contribute positively on the international front in order to be strong at home.

In order for the new NATO mission to be successful, CAF will need to invest in its recruitment system. For many years, CAF struggled with low recruitment numbers, leaving thousands of positions vacant. Therefore, the Government of Canada committed to increase its investment in defence to $32.7 billion by 2026-2027. With all of that in mind, how should Canada’s NATO mission look like?

The Government recognises that a representative, diverse, and well-educated CAF is needed “to succeed in an unpredictable and complex security environment.” Therefore, in order to actively address threats abroad and to engage in capacity building endeavours to support other nations’ defence organizations, CAF needs to reach out to women, Canadians from ethnic, religious and linguistic minority groups, new citizens, and members of the LGBTQI+ community.

But, why should we place emphasis on including Muslim CAF members in the mission to Iraq? Bader Siddiqi, former president of the Ottawa Muslim Association, stated that “‘[i]t is a positive when you send a Canadian Muslim’ on a […] mission.” He added that “‘[i]t is good to have people serving in the forces who understand the language and culture.’” The mission Canada will be commanding in Iraq requires deployed CAF members to understand the diversity of Iraq ethnically, culturally, religiously and linguistically.

Muslim Canadians have the advantage of belonging to many cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Their ability to speak Arabic and Kurdish, for example, coupled with their ability to empathise and appreciate the religious and cultural nuances increases the cooperation opportunities between CAF and the Iraqi military. While being aware of all the important nuances, Muslim CAF members can equip the Iraqi military with the necessary skills from operating weapons to intelligence gathering and analysis to combatting extremism in their official language(s).

Considering the need for recruitment from minority groups, how can CAF bolster its recruitment endeavours? Additionally, what can CAF do to ensure a smooth integration of the new recruits? CAF has the opportunity to work towards these two goals using two analytical tools – Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+) and cultural intelligence. While GBA+ is discussed in Strong, Secure, Engaged, combining it with cultural intelligence is essential for the success of the recruitment and training of Muslim Canadians in CAF.

GBA+ evaluates how policy shapes the experiences of diverse groups of men, women and gender-diverse peoples. Whereas cultural intelligence integrates a variety of cognitive dimensions that outline the “rules of engagement” when interacting with individuals who identify with diverse groups.

The two analytical tools point to the need to understand the unique experiences of Canadians from minority groups and the need to restructure policies and operational requirements to accommodate for such experiences. Additionally, it is important to educate current CAF members on cultural intelligence to welcome the new recruits to the organisation and to mentor them along the way.

While Iraq boasts for having a diverse society, its military is not quite reflective of this reality. Michael Knights asserts that the Iraqi Minister of Defence should prioritize and commit to cross-sectarian, multi-ethnic recruitment. Recognizing the immense work that needs to be done at home, Canada’s commitment to representation and diversity of its forces demonstrates to the Iraqi defence organization that its pride, resiliency and strength comes from diversity.

Uniformity and homogeneity are not the only ways to achieve effective, efficient, and agile militaries. As former US Secretary of Army Eric Fanning puts it, “diverse teams are better at solving complex problems when compared to more homogenous teams [because] [s]olving a problem often requires learning from others how to see it differently.”

This upcoming mission is a chance for Canada to continue to engage with its Iraqi partners on capacity building, operational effectiveness, and leadership. Canada has an important role to play. One that is unique to its commitments to NATO, and one that puts the Canadian example of welcoming and embracing diversity a priority for success.


Nour El-Nader holds a Bachelor of Public Affairs and Policy Management, with a specialization in Development Studies and a minor in Law from Carleton University. She is currently a master’s candidate completing her degree in International Affairs with a field designation in Security and Defence Policy at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University. Professionally, Nour is a policy analyst at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, working on Canada-US bilateral relations. She is passionate about advancing Canadian interests in the US and the Middle East as well as increasing the presence and influence of women of colour at the international forefront, in particular in security and defence discussions.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

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