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Ray Pennings: Religious bigotry is not the answer to the military’s culture problem


Even casual news followers are likely aware that the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has a significant “culture” problem. Repeated sexual misconduct allegationsSexual misconduct crisis in Canada’s military prompts calls for defence minister’s resignation prompting the resignation of several officials led to a series of reports,“On April 29, 2021, the Department of National Defence announced that former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour would lead an Independent External Comprehensive Review into Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment in the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces.” including two from retired Supreme Court justices, and a mandate to a new Minister of Defence to ensure that her “immediate priority is to take concrete steps to build an inclusive and diverse Defence Team, characterized by a healthy workplace free from harassment, discrimination, sexual misconduct and violence.”“As Minister of National Defence, your immediate priority is to take concrete steps to build an inclusive and diverse Defence Team, characterized by a healthy workplace free from harassment, discrimination, sexual misconduct and violence. This includes bringing forward the necessary reforms on a priority basis to create the foundation for meaningful and lasting change in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), a vital national institution.”

This is the context into which another report (there have been over 40, including two by retired justices), this one from the National Defence Advisory Panel on Systemic Racism and Discrimination, landed. The few media stories about it focused on overcoming the ways racism, for example, harmed CAF recruitment.

I was aware of the report, but it took a colleague to bring to my attention that there was more in it than the headlines suggested. In a section entitled “Redefining Chaplaincy”, the report notes with concern and disapproval the belief systems of various religious organizations that have chaplains in the army:

For example, some churches’ exclusion of women from their priesthoods violates principles of equality and social justice, as do sexist notions embedded in their religious dogmas. In addition, certain faiths have strict tenets requiring conversion of those they deem to be “pagan,” or who belong to polytheistic religions. These faiths’ dogmas and practices conflict with the commitment of the Defence Team to value equality and inclusivity at every level of the workplace.

If the Defence Team rejects gender discrimination, anti-Indigenous discrimination, and racialized discrimination in every other area and is working hard to remove systemic barriers to the employment of marginalized people, it cannot justify hiring representatives of organizations who marginalize certain people or categorically refuse them a position of leadership.

The report notes it isn’t its place to evaluate individual religions, but since “there are varying degrees of misogyny, sexism and discrimination woven into the philosophies and beliefs of some mainstream religions currently represented in the cadre of chaplains in the CAF,” the report recommends that the military:

“Do not consider for employment as spiritual guides or multi-faith representatives Chaplaincy applicants affiliated with religious groups whose values are not aligned with those of the Defence Team.”

Another recommendation specifically noted concerns with “the Abrahamic faiths.”

Where to start? Somehow the presence of Christian, Jewish, or Muslim chaplains (who, if the armed forces are reflective of the overall population, collectively represent about 70 percent of the population)“According to the 2011 National Household Survey, the largest religion in Canada was Christianity. About 22.1 million people—or just over two-thirds (67.3%) of the population—reported that they were affiliated with a Christian religion. Catholics were the largest Christian religious group in 2011, at 12.8 million people. In 2011, about 2.4 million people, or 7.2% of Canada’s population, reported affiliation with Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist religions. This was up from 4.9% a decade earlier, as recorded in the 2001 Census. The largest of these religions was Muslim, with just over one million individuals identifying themselves as such in 2011, representing 3.2% of the nation’s total population. The 2011 National Household Survey data also showed that roughly 329,500 people identified themselves as Jewish, 1.0% of the population. An additional 64,900 people reported that they were affiliated with traditional Aboriginal spirituality.” is problematic and contributes to the military’s toxic culture. To be sure, not all of them agree with the official religious tenets that are mentioned as offensive in the report: concern about same-sex relationships and a traditional view of gender and sexuality; distinguishing the roles of men and women within their faith; rejecting polytheism. There are differences within as well as between faith groups on these—and many other questions—within Canada. But the report concludes:

“The Defence Team cannot consider itself supportive of inclusivity when it employs as chaplains members of organizations whose values are not consistent with National Defence’s ethics and values—even if those members express non-adherence to the policies of their chosen religion.”

Translation: even if you are totally onside with the culturally mainstream “progressive” views on these issues, simply being a member of or identifying with a faith group that isn’t disqualifies you from serving in the military as a chaplain. Or at least, so this panel of experts recommends.

Have the authors of this report, reputable leaders with credentials and careers in public service, all been so blinded to their worldview that they can write their report without realizing the offence it provokes?

We are talking about the role of chaplaincy here, a vocation that seeks to serve and provide spiritual support. In a military context, the need for that support is intensified by the very real life and death risks that those in the military undertake as an ordinary part of their work. When the authors of the report read the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms with freedom of conscience and religion at the head of Section 2, which lists our fundamental freedoms, what understanding of religion do they have?

The relevant philosophical term here is “social imaginary”, or the broadly shared image of the ideal society. The authors of this report clearly imagine a stolidly secular world with only a little corner left for religion. My non-philosophical way of explaining it references birds and fish. A fish living in the water isn’t against flying. It cannot imagine what flying is, because it has only and can only imagine living in water. Flying isn’t something you are for or against in the deep blue sea. Similarly, a bird flies freely in the air and cannot imagine what swimming is like. Birds and fish have a rather limited social imaginary. That’s not unlike the CAF report’s authors. In their secular framework, references to the transcendent make about as much sense as flying does to a goldfish or swimming does to a goldfinch.

But Canada isn’t a non-religious deep blue sea. Our history, constitution and core values explicitly recognize “the supremacy of God and the rule of law.” They cannot simply be recommended out of relevance in a misguided aspiration to “do something” about the military’s very real problems. I don’t believe the authors are necessarily as ill-willed as their words suggest and my own approach to commentary is to try to avoid labels. But if I check a dictionary, what is here comes pretty close to what is usually defined as bigotry. An institution that self-admittedly is struggling with racism and sexism should look elsewhere when seeking solutions.

Malcolm Jolley: Loire Valley wines to watch for this spring


It’s springtime for the winemakers of the Loire Valley.“The Loire Valley wine route is the longest in France. Wine tourism destination par excellence, it takes place over 800 km through the vineyards of the Loire Valley.” The vines are well on their way and the risk of frost is receding as cool foggy mornings burn off into warm sunny days. The land is alive and the promise of another vintage of wine sits among the rows in the vineyards that surround the basin of France’s longest river.

It’s also springtime for the winemakers of the Loire Valley in the sense that a twenty-odd year push to modernize their wines and classify their particular sub-regions is very much coming to fruition. It’s a heady time in France’s “third wine region”,“Generally speaking, the French wine region’s map can be divided into northern vineyards that are reputed for white wines, and southern vineyards (with the exception of the Jura and Savoy) that are more renowned for their reds. The main wine areas of the French wine region map are Bordeaux, Burgundy, Languedoc, Champagne, the Loire Valley, Alsace, Rhône, Provence and Corsica.”,%2C%20Rh%C3%B4ne%2C%20Provence%20and%20Corsica.&text=Bordeaux%20on%20the%20Atlantic%20coast%20is%20among%20the%20most%20famous%20of%20wines. and I was lucky enough to see and taste some of that during the last week in April when I was a guest of Interloire, the Loire Valley’s inter-professional association which markets the wines.

The areas of focus for Interloire are the wine regions that surround the western end of the river, including running east near its mouth at the Atlantic in Brittany, Nantes, Angers, Saumur and Tours. The best-known wines of the Loire are, likely, Sauvignon Blancs, especially the famous appellations of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé, which lie several hundred kilometres to the east of this main area. While I tasted some Sauvignon Blanc from Anjou and Touraine, I was focused on the grapes that uniquely express the terroir of the Western Loire: Melon de Bourgogne, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc.

Despite the moderating influence of the Atlantic Ocean and the effects of global warming, the western Loire regions are cool climate wine regions. At about 47 degrees of latitude, they are among France’s most northern viticulture sites. The wines, accordingly, tend to be fresh, often with a racy acidity. They are generally, in other words, food wines made to be drunk at the table. Indeed, outside of their natural habitat, the wines of the Loire might be most likely found in the bistros of Paris.

Here are some broad takeaways from my recent trip, organized by grape variety.

Melon de Bourgogne

Melon de Bourgogne is a white grape used to make Muscadet, the crisp and clean dry white wine. Unfortunately, Muscadet sounds a lot like “Muscat” the large aromatic grape that is most commonly used to make sweet wines and I have often wondered how many consumers are confused between the two very different styles. In any event, Muscadet from the Loire, including the Coteaux de la Loire designation, and the more commonly known Muscadet Serve et Maine, remains a discoverable bargain, far underpriced for its consistent value.

Textural depth and flavour complexity in Muscadet are arrived at by leaving it “on the lees”: look for the words “sur lie” on the label. The lees are the remains of the yeast that fermented the wine, and the vignerons of the Loire are masters of this technique, which retains freshness.“As the yeast cells start to break down during the process of autolysis, they release tiny amounts of sugars (called polysaccharides) and amino acids. The presence of these compounds is sensed on our tongues and palates as a textural weightiness or increased body in the wine. White and sparkling wines aged on the lees are often described as creamier, richer, fuller-bodied, or with greater depth and complexity of flavor.” If there is a better wine to go with oysters, I have not had it. Anne Athimon, whose Muscadet from the Domaine des Génaudieres is left on the lees for two years, bears the name Champtoceaux on its label in reference to a nearby medieval village perched above the river. Champtoceaux is just one of a number of “villages” or “communes” Muscadets, part of an overall trend in the region to attach wines to the particular place they are from.

Chenin Blanc

The Loire is the spiritual homeland of the white Chenin Blanc grape, which has the dual talent of being able to express very clearly terroir or technique, or both. It is not unlike Chardonnay in this regard. It can be made into unctuous sweet wines, like Grand Cru Quarz de Chaumes, the best of which retain fresh and mouth-watering acidity. Or made bone dry, like sought after Savennières with its explosion of stone fruit.

Chenin from Savennières, made by only 30 producers, has the most famous labels, such as Nicolas Joly’s Coulee de Serrant, or his neighbour Tessa Laroche at the Domaine aux Moines, whose 2019 Roche aux Moines tastes like the Platonic ideal of a glass of white wine. Of course, it’s mostly priced accordingly, but the good news is that the success of Savennières has inspired Chenin growers across the western Loire who are pivoting from sweeter wines and are pushing the quality envelope for dry Chenin in the region.

A group of a few dozen producers have formed an unofficial appellation they call Anjou Blanc, drawing mostly from the area south of Angers, going down from the left bank of the Loire and east of one of its tributaries, the Layon. They’ve set up rules about making the wines: dry, aged for a minimum of a year, and so on. My press group met them at the thousand-year-old Château de Passavant, which is also a winery.

The new generation of Anjou Chenin seems intent on giving Savennières a run for its money, making rich and fancy whites, seasoned deftly (for the most part) with oak. Like the Muscadet producers, they are organizing themselves further into sub-regions, named for corresponding villages, including Ronceray and Montchanin. While retaining the characteristics of each village’s wine is daunting, the knowledge that the winemakers are making the effort to point out where their wine comes from and their ambition to reflect that taste of place is, in the best cases, a kind of quality assurance in itself.

Cabernet Franc

Red wine in the Loire almost always means Cabernet Franc, the red grape whose characteristic of ripening relatively early makes it ideal for cool climate viticulture. (Canadian winemakers have increasingly found success with it for this reason.) As average temperatures have grown in the last twenty years Loire Valley Cabernet Franc has consistently come to full ripeness, losing “green notes” in favour of red to black fruit ones: from cherries to raspberries or blackberries. There has never been a better time to drink Loire Cabernet Franc if you like a fresh, food-friendly, fruit-forward style.

The main Cabernet Franc growing regions in the Loire are Chinon, Bourgueil, St. Nicolas de Bourgueil and Saumur. Within Saumur is the specialized region of Saumur-Champigny, which is distinguished by its limestone soils. Around Angers, the geology of the Loire changes from the black schist rock of the Armoricaine Massif to the light, almost white, limestone soils of the Paris Basin. Saumur-Champigny is famous for its tuffeau stone, which was quarried from the middle ages on to build the churches and châteaux of the region.

The dug out caves of Saumur-Champigny are famous, like those of Champagne, and in fact are part of the same geologic formation. But it’s the effect of the soils on the Cabernet Franc grape that gives the region its distinction. While Cabernet Franc won on flinty schist soils that can have a slight pencil shaving finish, the Saumur-Champigny wines are clear in fruit and fresh in acidity. The eponymously named wines of Arnaud Lambert show this character, and so do those of Amélie Neau at Domaine de Nerleux, where they exhibit a certain purity.

Find out more about the wines of the Loire Valley at