TORONTO (AP) -- On May 17, 2006, in a firefight with Afghan Taliban insurgents, Canadian forces lost an artillery officer hit by shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade. She was Capt. Nichola Goddard, the first Canadian woman to be killed in action since her country's 1989 decision to admit women soldiers into combat.
For a nation already divided about participating in the American-led Afghanistan war, Goddard's death was a particular shock, and two more Canadian women have since died in combat. But Canada remains in the small group of countries -- including Israel, France, Norway, Australia, New Zealand and now the U.S. -- that have opened their fighting ranks to female soldiers.
Canada's change didn't come easily. "There was definitely heated discussion among my peers whether we should be there" in combat, said Lt. Col. Jennie Carignan, who enlisted in 1986.
But the country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms made it inevitable, and the armed forces began a series of trials. However, the initial result was not encouraging for champions of full equality. The trials indicated that almost half the male rank and file viewed their female counterparts as "women first, tradespersons second, and soldiers never." It was feared unit cohesion, esprit de corps and morale would suffer.
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