RCN Rank Change Initiative


Poll Results & Rank Designation Change Decision


Thank you for participating so enthusiastically in our poll seeking your advice with regards to more gender inclusive rank designations for the English rank titles of our most junior sailors. Having launched the initiative, it was incredibly important to me, as your Admiral, to hear from you – currently serving as well as retired members – and interested Canadians from across the country before I direct adoption of a way forward.

Your participation via almost 18,000 responses, of which some 30 per cent included write-in/commentary, delivered exactly what was needed. I was especially appreciative of the overwhelming participation by the junior ranks who will be most impacted by the change.

I appreciate as well that the initiative prompted us to have a frank and passionate discussion about not only the choices, but also the reasons behind this undertaking. Beyond the polling there has been an impressive deck-plate conversation in cubicles, offices, shops, flats and messes – everywhere, including virtually! What we have been discussing is our culture. We’ve been discussing who we are. Obviously, I encourage this reflection to continue – the introspection and dialogue being foundational to a vibrant, appropriate and ever-evolving naval/force culture… to getting it right! Meanwhile, in closing this chapter of the discussion, I’m so proud to share with you that we have confirmed by a wide majority that we are broadly likeminded (>75 per cent) that this rank change initiative is long overdue, necessary, and welcomed.

Why Evolve?

As the dialogue has established, while ours is proudly a service steeped in tradition – a service which was historically dominated by straight, cis, white males – it’s equally, necessarily, and proudly a modern service that prides itself on striving to continuously evolve in-step with the nation, and which merits our recent recognition as one of Canada’s top employers – the service you would encourage your family and friends to join, knowing it to be striving to be diverse, inclusive and welcoming!

Certainly, as it has been discussed, this is essential if we are to attract our reliefs, the next Watch. Do not, however, misconstrue our intent. This initiative – just one element in our evergreen efforts to address the inevitable organizational and behavioural inconsistencies that we’ll experience as we adapt our culture in response to the ever-evolving international and domestic contexts in which we live and operate – is about far more than attraction and recruiting. As we’ve been discussing, at its essence this initiative is about nothing less than ensuring that our Navy strives to keep pace with the society we serve so as to remain exactly the Service that Canadians want to represent them in the world’s darkest corners when principles and values matter.

Why now?

Obviously this initiative, as significant as it is given the importance we assign to the titles and vestiges that define us, is but an element of an enduring effort to remain a proud, capable and modern Service.

Yet, arguably, there is no room for deferral. An enduring effort, especially one involving culture, can be stalled by the failure to incrementally effect change. This is to say that, as we know, we cannot burden the next watch with what we can and must do today. Progress needs be realized on the current Watch… now … on our Watch. Through this initiative, our resultant dialogue, and its follow-through, we’ll make the next contribution to our broad efforts. This action is appropriate and timely for our RCN, a Navy that is equally known for not only what amazing things we accomplish but equally so for how we do so – for how we conduct ourselves … for who we are. 

The Results

Shipmates, having shared with you these important thoughts about the dialogue we’ve been having as a result of the initiative, let me now share with you some results.

Having contemplated all of this advice, I share that I welcome and celebrate the strong endorsement for this change (>75%) expressed. This demonstrates that ours is indeed a modern Service that prides itself on continuously evolving in-step with the nation and which is living-up to its recent recognition as one of Canada’s top employers. Additionally, I share that my decision as to the selected option was profoundly shaped by the clear preference of our junior ranks for sailor classes. Further, it’s convenient that such an approach aligns with extant designations in French.


The New Ranks

As a result, I am incredibly pleased and excited to announce that the English designation of our junior ranks will shortly be known as

  • Sailor Third Class
    (formerly Ordinary Seaman),
  • Sailor Second Class
    (formerly Able Seaman),
  • Sailor First Class
    (formerly Leading Seaman), and
  • Master Sailor
    (formerly Master Seaman).

All will be simply referred to as “sailor” (except Master Sailor, which always merits of the full rank title “Master Sailor”) in routine conversation unless formality or need for specificity drives the more fulsome title.

These new rank designations will be effective upon the issuance of a CANFORGEN on Friday Sept. 4. At that point, as we begin referring to shipmates using the new rank designations, we will have taken another in our incremental steps to build a more inclusive workplace that appropriately represents our values as a Navy, Force and Nation. Meanwhile, there will of course be a formal process running in the background to codify the change in our orders, regulations, publications and forms. This process is expected to take several years. Amplifying information will roll-out as this process unfolds.

What else the poll revealed

Before I conclude, shipmates, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also take this opportunity to share that the poll and accompanying dialogue has revealed that we continue to have prejudices and hate in our ranks – as heartbreaking as that is for the vast majority of you and for me.

Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of polling votes and discussion applauded or criticized the initiative in a constructive and respectful way, as you heard via a compelling July 24 response statement from Deputy Commander RCN so too were there inappropriate, hurtful views, and harmful expressions amongst the results.

In response, let me be clear: such negative and in some cases illegal sentiments and expressions are unequivocally unacceptable.

Further, those embracing them are not welcome in the RCN/CAF where we have zero tolerance for racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic and discriminatory behaviours of any kind in our ranks. So, for those who contributed such – and you know who you are – do the right thing and identify yourself to your superiors so that we can get you the help you need to identify and overcome your biases and prejudices or help you leave the Navy whose modern culture you obviously do not share.


We aspire to be a Navy in which all are treated with dignity and respect as well as a Service that cultivates an inclusive and respectful work environment for all. In choosing to serve, you accept these as your aspirations for us as well!  

Shipmates, we have profited immensely from our dialogue regarding the rank change initiative this summer. We emerge from it with a greater insight into who we are including the sobering reality that we all need do more – individually and collectively – to be diverse, inclusive and welcoming. More positively, we can now take satisfaction in knowing that through this initiative we have taken another important and far from symbolic incremental step in ensuring that the RCN remains the modern Service that all shipmates deserve – indeed, that our nation deserves.

Yours Aye,

Vice-Admiral Art McDonald
Commander Royal Canadian Navy


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