The Reserve Force

Reservists: Who are they and what do they do?

The Reserve Force is a vital component of the Canadian Armed Forces. This group consists of officers and non-commissioned members who enrolled for service other than continuing, full-time military service. The Reserve Force has four sub-components: Primary Reserve, Canadian Rangers, Cadet Organizations Administration and Training Service and the Supplementary Reserve. Individuals enrolled through these components exist as a trained and valuable force who make important contributions to the CAF domestically, with their presence and service during emergencies, in communities, (administration and training of the Cadet programs) and abroad as part of international operations.


The Reserve Force has four sub-components:

Primary Reserve

The Primary Reserve is largely comprised of part-time soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen who work in armouries, Reserve units or with Regular Force units across Canada and overseas. This is the largest of the sub-components at approximately 27,000 strong.

Canadian Rangers

The Canadian Rangers provide a military presence in sparsely settled northern, coastal and isolated areas of Canada. This sub-component has approximately 5,000 members.

Cadet Organizations Administration and Training Service

The Cadet Organizations Administration and Training Service consists of Cadet Instructor Cadre Officers, General Service Officers and General Service Non-Commissioned Members whose primary responsibilities include the management and administration of the Cadet Program.  This sub-component has approximately 8,000 members.

Supplementary Reserve

The Supplementary Reserve consists primarily of former Canadian Armed Forces members who, while inactive, can be offered a return to service in the event of a national emergency. This sub-component currently has approximately 9,500 members.


How are members of the Primary Reserve employed?

Members can be employed on three classes of service:

Class “A”

Short periods of service up to a maximum continuous duration of 12 consecutive calendar days.  The majority of members of the Reserve Force are employed as Class “A”, normally serving one evening per week and one weekend per month, who can apply for occasional higher-level full time work

Class “B”

Periods of service of 13 or more consecutive days. These are used for temporary full-time periods of employment, such as for members undertaking training, instructing at a training establishment, in support of training activities or for full-time positions within a unit. The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces employ Class “B” service Reservists for periods up to 180 days and more than 180 days1.

Class “C”

Periods of service used when the member is on full-time service in a Regular Force establishment position or is employed on operational duties approved by or on the behalf of the Chief of the Defence Staff. Class ‘C’ Reservists are equivalent in pay and benefits to Regular Force personnel but serve in that class on a temporary basis. For example, most reservists who served in Afghanistan did so on a Class “C” basis; those who help in times of national emergency—floods, fires, ice storms—may do so as Class “C”s. As of 31 March 2017, there were 531 Primary Reservists on Class ‘C’ periods of employment2.

The Primary Reserve Force

Who are members of the Primary Reserve?

The Primary Reserve is made up largely of members who have other full-time civilian employment or who attend school, and who dedicate themselves to the military on a part-time basis.

Members of the Primary Reserve are men and women who contribute to the defence and security of Canada. They train to qualify for their selected professions, and subsequently, to prepare for domestic or international operations.

Primary Reservists serve in communities across Canada. Many are situated in large urban centres while others are located in isolated areas from coast to coast to coast.  Though Reserve units are supported by a Canadian Armed Forces base or wing, many are not in close proximity to those establishments or the services that are provided by them.

The Primary Reserve sub-component consists of the following six elements3:

  1. the Naval Reserve (3,215 reservists in 24 Naval Reserve Divisions);
  2. the Canadian Army Reserve (18,936 part and full-time reservists in 123 units located in 117 cities);
  3. the Royal Canadian Air Force Reserve (2,068, employed in total force establishments throughout Canada);
  4. Military Personnel Command, which includes the Canadian Forces Health Services Reserve (1,025 organized into two functional groups – 14 Reserve Field Ambulances and the 1 Canadian Field Hospital Detachment Ottawa) and the National Defence Headquarters Primary Reserve List (PRL) (1,363 members);
  5. the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command Reserve; and
  6. the Judge Advocate General Reserve (approximately 50 legal officers employed on Class “A” and short term class “B” in various supporting legal roles)

The Canadian Rangers

Canadian Rangers provide “…a CAF presence in those sparsely settled northern, coastal and isolated areas of Canada which cannot conveniently or economically be covered by other elements of the CAF.”  As of April 30, 2016, there were 4,985 Canadian Rangers on strength with the CAF, divided in 180 patrols. They were 3,929 male members (79%) and 1,056 female members (21%).

“In 2016, Canadian Rangers were involved in 25 search and rescue operations in which they saved the lives of 32 people4”.

The Cadet Organizations Administration and Training Service

The Cadet Organization Administration and Training Service (COATS) consists of Canadian Armed Forces members who have undertaken as their primary duty the supervision, administration and training of cadets or Junior Canadian Rangers when they attend a cadet summer training centre or participate in other authorized activities for cadets. The COATS is comprised of officers of the Cadet Instructor Cadre military occupation and CAF members of other military occupations. This Reserve Force sub-component is not required to serve in any other capacity.

Approximately 7,800 commissioned officers of the Cadet Instructors Cadre train more than 52,000 Cadets5 between 12 and 18 years of age. 

Supplementary Reserve

The Supplementary Reserve “is comprised of Canadian Armed Forces members who: have previously served in the Regular Force or another sub-component of the Reserve Force; or did not have previous military experience when they enrolled but who do have special skills or expertise for which there is a military requirement”6.

This list holds about 9,500 former Regular and Reserve Force personnel, who are not required for annual training, but who may choose to return to service voluntarily7.

Do members of the Primary Reserve participates in domestic and international operations?

International Operations

Members of the Primary Reserve have made important contributions to CAF operations and continue to participate very actively on the international and domestic fronts.

Primary Reservists who voluntarily apply and are then selected for an international deployment are generally sent to augment Regular Force capabilities; they may be the only one, or one of few, from their home unit participating in the mission. Over the last 25 years, Reservists have participated in international operations in the Balkans, the Middle East and Africa, and in humanitarian crises such as in Haiti and the Philippines.

Domestic Operations 

Members of the Primary Reserve and Canadian Rangers may be called upon to serve, with consent, in domestic operations such as providing security at events, search and rescue missions as well as responding to natural disasters. Examples include their participation in:

  • providing assistance to help provincial and territorial authorities in response to forest fires, floods, and natural disasters in Canada (Operation LENTUS):
    • assist in the emergency response to flooding in the province of Quebec (May 2017)
    • evacuation of community residents of Kashechewan (April 2017)
    • New Brunswick ice storm (January 2017)
    • Fort McMurray wild fires (2016) 
  • participation in the Parks Canada program to prevent avalanches from blocking land routes in Rogers Pass (Operation PALACI)  (April 2017)
  • Joint sovereignty patrols and security exercises in the high and central Arctic (Operation NUNALIVUT) (February 2017)
  • contribution to whole-of-government sovereignty patrols and security exercises usually held in the high and eastern Arctic (Operation NANOOK) (August 2016)
  • ground search and rescue operations such as the rescue of a stranded hunter

Where can I enroll in the Reserve Force? 

Consult the recruiting site under “Part-time Jobs” at

Where do I find Reserve Force jobs?

Reserve Force employment opportunities  

For more information on the Reserve employment, see Canadian Forces Military Personnel Instruction 20/04 “Administration Policy of Class “A”, Class “B” and Class “C” Reserve Service” (available only on the Defence Information Network Intranet site). If you do not have access to the internal network, you may contact our Office to obtain a copy of the instruction.

Employer Support for Reservists

Reservists can seek guidance and support for their military duties through the Canadian Forces Liaison Council (CFLC). The mandate of this council is to assists individual Reservists in matters of employer support and “to enhance the availability of Reservists for their military duties by obtaining the support and co-operation of organization leaders in Canada”.

The primary mechanism of support advanced by the CFLC is encouraging civilian employers and educational institutions to grant Reservists leave for their military related service, on a voluntary basis, without penalty, thereby enabling Reservists’ important contributions to Canadian Armed Forces capabilities.

For more information on job protection legislation for Reservists passed by the federal government, all provinces and territories in June 2012 visit: 


  1. The divide of Class “B” Reserve Service surrounding 180 days is a recurring threshold for benefits to Class “B” Reservists. The Injured Military Members Compensation Act expresses the divide as “more than 180 days” and “180 days or less”.  However, Canadian Armed Forces policies and regulations are inconsistent.  Some refer to more than 180 days and up to 180 days, without addressing terms of service of 180 days exactly.  Other policies and regulations are silent on the duration of period of service when on Class “B”.
  2. Source: Director Personnel Generation Requirements April 2017 Report
  3. Canada’s Reserve Force – 2016-17 Report on Plans and Priorities,
  7. The period of service for Supplementary Reserve members is normally five years or until compulsory retirement age, whichever comes first. (CAF Military Personnel Instruction 02/15 – Supplementary Reserve)
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