The Canaries were volunteer convict armies in the Space Corps, utilised for missions deemed too dangerous for less expendable personnel. The term came from old-time mining operations on Earth, where a canary bird would be sent down into a mine to check that the air was safe for humans to breathe.
One such prisoner group was formed aboard the Jupiter Mining Corporation spaceship Red Dwarf. Canary members were drawn from convicts housed on the secretive brig located on floor thirteen of Red Dwarf - The Tank.
Convicts who chose to join got certain privileges, such as extra rations and other perks (including a movie night once a week, although the movies were low quality to sap morale, according to Arnold Rimmer), although some, such as Kill Crazy and Baxter, might have joined simply for fun (as it allowed them to kill something). Prisoners who didn't join Canary away missions may be asked to do very unpleasant things, such as cleaning out the sewers.
The main function of the Canaries was to function as expendable cannon fodder. Like the use given to their avian namesakes in old Earth mines, Canaries were sent first to any dangerous situation. If they survived, then the location was presumed safe for Space Corps officers and equipment.
According to Arnold Rimmer, their name stood for Convict Army Nearly All Retarded Inbred Evil Sheepshaggers.
Recruitment posters for Red Dwarf's Canaries were put up around the men's toilets.
Boys from the Dwarf
In an attempt to get extra perks while in the The Tank, Lister signed up for the Canaries under the impression that they were an a capella singing group. Rimmer laughed as he explained that the Canaries were only used as suicide troops. He stopped laughing when he learned that Lister had forged his signature to sign Rimmer up as well. He had done the same for Kryten, Cat and Kochanski.
They tried to get out of the Canaries by singing at the first meeting, but Ackerman was not impressed. The canaries were sent aboard SSS Silverberg, where most of them were killed when a bulkhead gave way. ("Cassandra")
The Canaries discover a ship where the previous occupants have literally "sexed" each other to death. ("Phwoaarr")
A new Canary legion was sent up against a mutated creature with two heads and multiple tentacles, which ran away when it saw Kill Crazy. In this new group, several female prisoners were present. ("Krytie TV")
Three battalions of Canaries were sent aboard SS Manny Celeste. The 3rd battalion included Kryten, Kochanski and Cat. They found the other two battalions frozen by the Time Wand and managed to smuggle it back aboard Red Dwarf. ("Pete I")
Later, when the sparrow Pete had been turned into a Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Canaries were sent in to deal with it. Baxter and Kill Crazy insisted that they not use guns, prefering for the matter to be settled with a fist fight. The Canaries were unsuccessful until Lister used the Time Wand to undo Pete's transformation. ("Pete II")
The current status of the Canaries after Series VIII, along with the rest of the convicts aboard Red Dwarf, is unknown, except they are no longer aboard. Many were probably killed on missions, given the dangerous nature of them; others may have been killed by the Chameleonic Microbe. Captain Frank Hollister said that he and the officers were escaping the Chameleonic Microbe on a fleet of shuttlecraft, only taking a few others. ("Only the Good...")
- In the Series III episode "Bodyswap", Rimmer mentions sending a canary bird into the Officer's Quarters to check the atmosphere after Lister has had a curry.
- A Canary uniform could be spotted in the airlock during the sequence where Dave Lister dons his space suit in the Series X episode "Fathers & Suns", the only acknowledgement of the organization outside of Series VIII.