Message to Defence Team members from Deputy Minister Jody Thomas and Chief of the Defence Staff Gen Jonathan Vance on Racism and Discrimination

June 19, 2020 – Defence Stories

Team,

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. Our public statements on Twitter are not a substitute for direct internal communications with our own people. We acknowledge that many of you have been hurt and disillusioned by this delay and we commit to doing better in the future.

We acknowledge that the events of the last several weeks have raised feelings of deep hurt, frustration and distress for so many of our 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.

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. This alleged incident is being investigated by the Military Police and this matter will be addressed by the independent actors in the military or 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. 

As a Defence Team, the foundations of our purpose is rooted in service to our country and to all Canadians. As we stand together on these foundations today, we also recognize that historically, the social structures that formed our nation disproportionally privileged white people.

On Thursday, we had a roundtable with representatives from our Employment Equity Defence Advisory Groups — Defence Visible Minority Advisory Group (DVMAG), Defence Aboriginal Advisory Group (DAAG), Defence Women’s Advisory Organization (DWAO), Persons with Disabilities (PWD) and Defence Team Pride Network (DTPN) — and Mr. Richard Sharpe of the Federal Black Employee Caucus. We are grateful for the profound honesty and leadership displayed by each and every person who shared their experiences and their insights with us so we can better understand how discrimination and racism are manifesting and impacting our Defence Team members across all of our different communities. 

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. We heard that senior leader intent on racism and discrimination is rarely reflected in full within the messages that reach employees and members. We heard that it is ineffective and exclusionary to ask communities to validate programs and policies meant to serve them, if the communities themselves have not been part of the development process from the start. And we heard that words matter, and while some hurtful actions are unintentional, they still cause harm.

We understand that CAF members and employees want action, and that action must come from us as senior leaders in spoken and written word as well as in deed. To confront this issue and stop the cycle of racism once and for all, it will take deliberate and sustained action, including having conversations that are uncomfortable but necessary, much like the conversations that we had yesterday. In fact, if the conversations—and more critically—the subsequent actions do not occur, we have fundamentally failed in our mission to advance meaningful change.

Thursday’s roundtable, as well as recent events, have reinforced that we must be more coordinated, purposeful and effective in how we approach fixing our problem with systemic racism. Therefore, as immediate next steps we will:

  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.

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.

Jody Thomas
Deputy Minister of National Defence

General Jonathan Vance
Chief of the Defence Staff

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