Royal Canadian Navy drops ‘seaman’ title for gender-neutral term ‘sailor’

The HMCS Calgary is seen behind sailors during a change of command ceremony at CFB Esquimalt, in Esquimalt, B.C., Wednesday, June 24, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

The Royal Canadian Navy is ditching the term “seaman” in favour of the gender-neutral “sailor,” the organization said Thursday.

“By adopting gender neutral designation for junior members of the Royal Canadian Navy, we demonstrate to all Canadians that the Canadian Armed Forces will welcome anybody who wants to serve their country and uphold the values of inclusion and diversity,” Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said in a statement.

“We will continue to work to build a diverse force that is representative of the Canadians they protect.”

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The Navy announced earlier this summer that it would be discontinuing the use of the word in the ranks of its junior members. The Navy invited feedback on alternatives in a poll.

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It elicited nearly 18,000 responses, with about 75 per cent approving of the decision to change the title, Navy Commander Vice-Admiral Art McDonald said.

As of September, the Navy will use the ranks Sailor Third Class (formerly Ordinary Seaman), Sailor Second Class (formerly Able Seaman), Sailor First Class (formerly Leading Seaman) and Master Sailor (formerly Master Seaman).

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According to Statistics Canada, about 20 per cent of the Navy’s members are female, which puts the force ahead of the Army and roughly on par with the Air Force.

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While the move to drop the term “seaman” was meant to promote inclusion of women within the Navy, it also sparked a backlash.

In late July, the navy’s deputy commander responded to a series of online posts criticizing the military’s plan, warning that there is no place in the force for sailors who subscribe to “hateful, misogynistic and racist” beliefs.

READ MORE: Canadian Navy to drop term ‘seaman’ in favour of gender-neutral titles

“To those of you currently serving with these beliefs, I would like to emphatically state you have no place in our Navy,” Rear-Admiral Chris Sutherland said in a Facebook post in late July. “If you cannot live by or support the values of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, then you cannot defend them.”

–With files from the Canadian Press

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