Women leaders visit HMCS Toronto

Cdr Martin Fluet, Toronto’s Commanding Officer, explains watchkeeping to CLaS guests on the ship’s bridge.

HMCS Toronto welcomes CLaS guests for International Women’s Day

By Ryan Melanson,
Trident Staff

As the CAF celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8 with events across the country, the Atlantic Fleet played its part by inviting a group of women to board a Halifax-class Frigate for the day, meet female Navy sailors and learn about life in the RCN.

About 50 women joined HMCS Toronto for the special day, including 15 leaders in government and industry who visited the base as part of the RCN’s Canadian Leaders at Sea (CLaS) Program; the group included elected MPs and MLAs from different provinces, academics, and representatives of organizations like Lockheed Martin Canada, Jazz Aviation and Nova Scotia Power.

Stormy weather caused a planned day sail to be called off, but the women were still able to get the Navy experience, touring the ship and taking in demonstrations around small arms, damage control, firefighting, and an action stations scenario in the operations room. The day was also scheduled to allow ample time for conversations and questions between the guests and the many female sailors on board for the day, including those who are part of the ship’s company of HMCS Toronto and others from units across MARLANT who came along to enhance the experience.

“I’ve never been on a frigate before, so this is still very exciting and a new adventure for me even if the ship doesn’t move,” said Halifax-based business consultant Floria Aghdamimehr as she tried on some boarding party gear. She said she expected to meet women in uniform among the crew of a modern warship, but actually seeing the sailors in their element, explaining their jobs and leading tour groups through the morning, had a powerful impact. Others echoed those comments.
“It’s not just seeing all the women on the ship, but also seeing the power and influence and responsibility they have, and that they aren’t afraid to take on a difficult job.” said Sharon Kaur, a purchasing supervisor with Jazz Aviation, after meeting young Naval Warfare Officers on the ship’s bridge and learning about the responsibilities of watchkeeping.

Guests learn about the CAF’s use of the C8 Carbine during a weapons demonstration.

“I’m also a strong supporter of women in aviation, which is my background, so it’s very inspiring to see what the Navy is doing with their women, and I’m very impressed.”

The RCN and the CAF overall still have work ahead to meet the 25 percent goal of female representation in the military laid out in Canada’s new defence policy, which is part of the reason the day’s guests also included potential recruits suggested by CFRC Halifax. It’s no secret that a CAF career also comes with challenges, and the CLaS guests had plenty of questions about the support provided to sailors, and specifically the challenges around deploying and being separated from family at home.

“It’s challenging for anyone who has to leave their kids for an extended period of time,” said LCdr Amber Comisso, who has two young children of her own, and spoke about the feelings of helplessness that come with being thousands of miles away and worrying about loved ones. But she also highlighted the family support functions of the MFRC and other ways the CAF works to ease the burden on military families.

“We hope one the thing the women really feel today is the community that exists on a ship, and the great support network the sailors have on board.”

The CLaS experience also includes tours of other shore-based facilities an audience with senior formation leaders, and though the day was all about the women of the RCN, the guests also spent time RAdm Craig Baines, Commander MARLANT and JTFA, and Cdr Martin Fluet, Toronto’s CO.

Cdr Fluet’s crew in Toronto currently includes 23 women, which is slightly below average for the Halifax-class, and he said that he hopes to see those numbers slowly increase through the coming years. He assume command of Toronto barely a month ago, but he’s already identified some of his female sailors as key factors in the ship’s success as they prepare for a deployment to Op REASSURANCE in early 2019.

“Women bring so much to the ship’s company. The dynamic is different, we get people working together differently and get new ideas that come from a different perspective. We need more women in our military, so I truly hope we’ve properly showcased the Navy and what it offers with all our great guests today,” he said.