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Chief of the Defence Staff and Deputy Minister release message regarding racism in Defence Team community

Above image: Ms. Jody Thomas, Deputy Minister of National Defence; Hon. Harjit Sajjan, Minister of National Defence; Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and General Jonathan Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff at the United Nations Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial in Vancouver. Image courtesy of Canadian Government. 

On Friday, June 23, 2020 Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance and Deputy Minister of National Defence Jody Thomas released a message to address the global response to the killing of George Floyd.

“To begin, we would like to apologize that you have had to wait to hear formally and directly from us on the global response to the killing of George Floyd on May 25 and the matter of systemic racism within the Defence Team,” began the message. 

Noting that their public statements on Twitter were not a substitute for direct internal communications, Vance and Thomas acknowledged people on the Defence Team may have been hurt and disillusioned by the delay. Vance and Thomas committed to doing better in the future.

They acknowledged the events that had transpired over the last several weeks might have raised feelings of hurt, frustration, and distress for Black and Indigenous Defence Team colleagues. 

“Colleagues who have our full support and solidarity as respected, valued and important members of our Defence Team and our country,” noted the message. 

The message also mentioned an incident regarding a CAF member that had taken place in Quebec. 

“We have also learned of allegations that have occurred in Quebec surrounding the distribution of an anti-Black, racist meme by one of our members. We understand that the meme is additionally harmful as it discounts and dismisses the outrage felt by many Black members in our military family who have witnessed the events unfolding in the United States and Canada.”

The Military Police are currently investigating the incident with the matter being addressed by “independent actors in the military and civilian justice system.” 

“We are determined to root out anti-Black racism and state unequivocally that anti-Black racism and racism towards all other visible minorities and Indigenous persons will not be tolerated within the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces.” 

On June 18, 2020 a roundtable took place with representatives from the following groups:

      • Employment Equity Defence Advisory Groups — Defence Visible Minority Advisory Group (DVMAG)
      • Defence Aboriginal Advisory Group
      • Defence Women’s Advisory Organization
      • Persons with Disabilities
      • Defence Team Pride Network
      • Federal Black Employee Caucus, Mr. Richard Sharpe

General Vance and Thomas shared they were grateful for the representatives’ “profound honesty” and leadership displayed as they shared their experiences and insights regarding how discrimination and racism are manifesting and its impact on Defence Team members. 

“We heard that racism is real, particularly anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, and that it is happening daily across the Defence Team. We heard that racism is perpetrated by all levels and ranks of Defence Team members across the country. We heard that victims of this racism overwhelmingly fear that they will not be believed if they report their experiences, and that victims also fear that speaking up will lead to retaliation against them,” stated the message. 

It also noted the results from Thursday’s roundtable and other recent events, which reinforced the fact that the Defence Team “be more coordinated, purposeful and effective in how we approach fixing our problem with systemic racism.”

The message noted the immediate next steps for the Defence Team would be:

      1. Investigate and implement the creation of safe spaces in our workplaces for our Black Defence Team employees and members to gather without judgement and without question.
      2. Confirm and communicate a clear means by which employees and members can report racism in their workplace and that they feel supported and trust that the concerns they raise will treated with all appropriate seriousness.
      3. Convene a second discussion in the next few weeks with DAG members to continue Thursday’s conversation.
      4. Communicate again to you, as our Defence Team, in the next few weeks, about more concrete actions that we will take to address the concerns that we have heard Thursday, as well as the greater systemic racism in our institution.

The message closed, “As your leaders, we have a crucial role in setting the tone and leading change. Today, we reaffirm our commitment that no Defence Team members should feel unwelcome in a room, workshop, drill hall, ship or airfield within National Defence or in the Canadian Armed Forces. 

“We must continue to work together to ensure that our Defence Team is a place where all are welcome, safe and treated with the same human dignity and respect that we defend and protect, each and every day in our service to Canada. 

“To this end, we will redouble our own efforts to self-examine, engage and educate ourselves on how to actively mitigate our own implicit biases; and we encourage everyone to do the same.”

Read the full message here

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