Nearly a year after a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy was implemented for the Canadian Armed Forces, 299 members have been kicked out of the military because they refused to get vaccinated.

In October 2021 a chief of the defence staff directive on COVID-19 vaccinations came into force making two doses of a vaccine a requirement to enrol or work in the Canadian Armed Forces. The CDS gave CAF members until the end of November to be vaccinated or face remedial measures, including possible dismissal.

On top of the 299 military members told to leave the forces, an additional 108 Regular Forces members requested to leave voluntarily as of Sept. 13, citing the mandatory vaccination policy as their prime reason for releasing. The departures represent about 0.56 per cent of the roughly 71,500 currently serving Canadian Armed Forces members.

In a statement, the military says the vaccine requirement is an institutional decision made to “ensure operational readiness.”

“The CAF needs to take a more operational approach as a force of last resort, compared to other federal departments,” a spokesperson for the Canadian Armed Forces said in an emailed statement issued to CTV News.

“As the force that must be ready at all times to conduct domestic and international military operations, sometimes in places with limited or no access to specialized medical care, the CAF has a more stringent requirement to enforce health protection measures to protect the operational readiness of personnel.”

The original directive issued to the force says the policy will remain in place “until sufficient widespread immunity is attained in the general Canadian population.” The most recent data shows 82.08 per cent of the total Canadian population has received at least two doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine, and 16.17 per cent of the population has completed its primary services or received an additional dose in the last six months.

In June, the Government of Canada suspended its mandatory vaccination policy for federal employees, including civilians working for the Department of National Defence. The change meant that public servants previously placed on administrative leave without pay as a result of the vaccination policy were allowed to return to work with full pay. Then, this week, Ottawa revealed the remaining border measures, including a proof of vaccination requirement for all travellers, was being dropped alongside other COVID-19 measures starting Oct. 1.

The federal government continues to encourage Canadians to get vaccinated, saying it is the best way to protect themselves against the disease.

The policy for those currently serving Canadian Armed Forces, however, has not changed.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and Shadow Minister for Heath Michael Barrett have both questioned the mandate.

“I think it is important that the operational requirements of the Canadian Armed Forces needs to be weighed,” Barrett said, adding that there are different vaccination requirements as a condition of employment in the military than at other workplaces. “If there is a specific operational requirement that is one thing but I think that just as a condition of their employment, that, like anyone who works for the federal government, has to be eliminated.”

A number of military members have tried to fight the mandate in court, but none have been successful.

Asked why the policy hasn’t changed and whether the CAF has any intention on ending its vaccine mandate, a spokesperson for the military says decisions are based on “operational requirements and imperatives.”

“This is an institutional decision made to protect members of CAF and the Defence Team, ensure operational readiness, and to demonstrate responsible leadership to Canada and Canadians through the Defence Team’s response to the pandemic,” a spokesperson wrote in a statement, adding that the CAF follows Public Health Agency of Canada and National Advisory Committee on Immunization guidelines on vaccines and booster shots.

The military ombudsman has said that there is no problem with the forces’ vaccination requirement or how it is being enforced. In fact, the military ombudsman’s office told CTV News it has received only 10 complaints from currently serving members about the requirement. In those cases, the military ombudsman's office says, they have found no unfairness in the application of the forces' policy.

With files from The Canadian Press