The Canadian Army has its first Indigenous commander.
Lt.-Gen. Jocelyn (Joe) Paul assumed the post on Thursday, taking over from Maj.-Gen. Michel-Henri St-Louis, who has been the acting top soldier since last year.
Paul is a respected member of the army who served as one of the country’s battle group commanders during the Afghan war. He started his career with the Royal 22e Regiment but most recently served as deputy commander of NATO Allied Joint Forces Command in Naples, Italy.
He has for several years been the highest-ranking Indigenous member of the military. He’s spoken often about how his culture and personal history have shaped him as a soldier and individual.
But his promotion to army commander is a milestone.
“If I can be of any help, if I can inspire some young man or young woman who are hesitating to sign up for a military career, and if I can have five, six, 10, 15, 20 more Aboriginal soldiers, I guess I feel I will have done my duty,” Paul told reporters following the change of command.
He said he was “deeply grateful” for the opportunity to command the Canadian Army at a critical moment in history, with a war raging in Europe.
“From the Baltic to the Black Sea, our NATO allies recognize the tradition of excellence of the Canadian Armed Forces and of the Canadian Army, and all of this is only made possible by those who wear the uniform,” Paul said in the official Department of National Defence statement.
Thursday’s command ceremony at the Cartier Square drill hall in Ottawa was filled with personal significance for Paul.
Andrée Levesque Sioui, a Wendat from the community of Wendake near Quebec City, performed a canoe song originally composed by one of Paul’s ancestors just over 100 years ago.
‘Respect, dignity and humility’
Paul said he expects everyone in the army to act with “respect, dignity and humility.” He recalled his days leading combat troops in Kandahar where, he said, “gender, race, ethnicity, language and sexual orientation” were never discussed.
“Because we were out there facing adversity, helping and protecting one another,” Paul said. “We were focused on the team.”
Paul takes command just as the military is going through a major leadership crisis.
The former officer who had been in line to be army commander, retired lieutenant-general Trevor Cadieu, was formally charged on Wednesday with two counts of sexual assault in connection with allegations dating back to the mid-1990s.
It was only the latest in a series of sexual misconduct cases and allegations which have sidelined — or forced the resignations of — as many as 11 senior military leaders.