Racism and discrimination “rampant” throughout ranks and elements of Canadian Armed Forces says report

Dennis Ward
APTN National News
A report by the Defence Aboriginal Advisory Group says racism and discrimination “is a systemic issue” within Canadian Armed Forces that is “rampant throughout all ranks of elements of Land, Air Force and Navy” and the issue is serious enough that an external review is imminent.

APTN National News obtained a copy of the draft report through an Access to Information and Privacy request.

Some of the stories were “rather disturbing and undoubtedly inexcusable, although not surprising” says the report. There are indications that some members of the CAF have not reported the incidences for “fear of reprisal from supervisors and/or peers, and that their career would be negatively impacted.”
Examples of abuse of authority include one supervisor who “threatened a member says ‘he would make his life difficult if he said anything.”

In 2015, APTN National News reported on similar accusations made by Cpl. Esther Wolki who attempted suicide at the base in Shilo, Manitoba after a decade with the Canadian Forces, including a tour in Afghanistan and the racism, sexual and emotional harassment that broke her down.

Wolki has since left the Canadian Forces and returned home to Paulatuk, NWT where she continues to struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The DAAG believes the issue is more wide-spread and often not reported. It is clear throughout the report that Indigenous members of the CAF were reluctant to share their experiences for fear of reprisal “resulting in their health, work life and personal life being afflicted.”

The report says some said they thought the military was a great place to enlist and to have a long-term, exciting career only to experience “repeat racism, discrimination, stereotyping and microaggressions.” Most members have expressed a strong desire and pride to join the military, only to have it diminished soon after joining. “Sadly, there are members ready to leave, and some have already left.”

The report says culture at the bases/wings has created an environment that is untrusting, unfair and intolerable for many Aboriginal members.” The DAAG feels systemic discrimination is intact at all levels of Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces as many members of “the Defence team remain uneducated towards Canada’s Aboriginal people.” “Aboriginal members will continue to be discriminated and stereotyped against” and certain words and gestures will allow behaviours to continue.

The authors of the report believe some recommendations can be achieved quickly but initiatives will only be achieved through support at the national level. The report concludes there needs to be “serious consideration taken as this issue appears to be systemic. The number of Aboriginal members, civilian and military, is below standard and in order to increase numbers, change is vital.”

The authors feel the “abuse of authority will continue as the aggressors are protected” by their chain of command. “Victims are being forced out of the military, yet aggressors continue on – some excelling in their careers.”

The report says if issues cannot be resolved, the CAF will continue down the path of ‘damage control’ as members go public.

The authors feel education is an important factor towards eliminating racism, discrimination and stereotyping. “Considering the circumstances and factors, now is the time to take action as our Liberal Government has strong initiatives in resolving a number of the crisis in our Aboriginal communities.”

The DAAG makes a number of recommendations including developing an Operation Awareness to help identify systemic racism and discrimination to send the message that there is zero tolerance for racism and discrimination in the DND/CAF. Other recommendations include a Mandatory Aboriginal Awareness Training and creating an Aboriginal/Elder position within the Chaplaincy Service as well as a Aboriginal Liaison Officer.

There are also recommendations to create a sacred space and establish an external reporting structure.

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