Change-of-command ceremony for new defence chief set for July 18

OTTAWA — A change-of-command ceremony for the country's top military commander is set for July 18, though the next chief of the defence staff has not yet been named publicly.

Gen. Wayne Eyre announced plans last January to retire from the post after a 40-year career.

At the time, Eyre said in a statement that he asked for his successor to be identified as soon as possible to allow for an orderly and deliberate handover, something he said was a best practice used by allies.

His tenure is set to end in August.

The defence chief is appointed by the federal cabinet. The prime minister has not announced who will be taking over at next month's ceremony.

In an interview to mark the end of his career, Eyre said the best descriptor of his time in the military's top office is "polycrisis."

"It has been crisis stacked upon crisis, whether it is internal, whether it is domestic, whether it is geopolitical and I do not see an end to that because we are in an era of a confluence of threats," he said.

The internal crisis that led to Eyre taking over the military's top job was a series of high-profile resignations by senior military leaders who had been accused of sexual misconduct.

Gen. Jonathan Vance retired as defence chief weeks before Global News published a story alleging he had an improper relationship with a subordinate. He eventually pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice.

Vance had announced his plan to retire in July 2020 and the change-of-command ceremony took place in January 2021.

Vance's replacement, Adm. Art McDonald, stepped down just weeks into his tenure after he was accused of sexual misconduct. A six-month investigation did not result in charges, and while McDonald asked to return to the job, the government instead made Eyre's posting permanent in November 2021.

Under the direction of then-defence minister Anita Anand, Eyre was tasked with leading efforts to change the military's culture after an independent review by former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour released in May 2022 found it to be toxic and rife with sexual misconduct.

The Defence Department said in a Thursday news release that it has now addressed 65 of the 206 recommendations made to reform the Armed Forces in a series of four external reports that date from 2021.

Eyre said Thursday it's "too early to declare success on any of that," but that the military is trying hard to change. "You would be hard-pressed to find an institution in this country that has put more effort into understanding itself and making changes."

In the wake of the sexual misconduct crisis there have been calls for the Liberal government to ensure its next defence chief is a woman or a person from the LGBTQ+ community, which would be a first for the country.

But it will not be the vice-chief stepping into the role. The Defence Department said Lt.-Gen. Frances Allen plans to retire this year as well and will be replaced in an early August change-of-command ceremony.

Eyre said whoever it is, his successor is taking over an institution that is "on the upswing."

"We need to be an Armed Forces that reflects the values of Canada, that embraces a culture of service, of a willingness to go forth and do great things, of serving a higher purpose, which is your country."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2024.

Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press