DM/CDS Update following special Defence Management Committee on Racism

July 28, 2020 – Defence Stories

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***This statement is a follow-up to the DM/CDS Message released on 19 June 2020. We request that all Defence Team members review with attention.***


Our organization must become one in which all Defence Team members feel welcome, safe and treated with the same human dignity and respect as any other member. We have a lot of work to do and all of us need to be engaged.

This Monday, all military and civilian L0s and L1s met to listen and learn directly from Visible Minority Defence Team members about the lived experiences and systemic barriers that they and other colleagues face on a daily basis. While all forms of racism are significant and destructive, this meeting focused on anti-Black racism in particular. The majority of the four-hour meeting was dedicated to understanding, consulting, discussing and asking questions regarding current, real life experiences that our Black Defence Team members must endure and continue to show resilience.

In addition to Defence Team leadership, we were joined by the Deputy Clerk of the Privy Council, and leaders from the Federal Black Employee Caucus. Presenters included military and civilian Co-chairs for the Defence Visible Minority Advisory Group (DVMAG), on behalf of the 18 regional advisory groups across Canada; CAF members; and a leader from the newly formed DND Black Employee Network. Presentations reflected some of the Black voices across the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and Department of National Defence (DND).

The tone of the discourse was respectful, transparent and proactive. It was also completely frank. We are grateful for the courage, honesty and directness of the presenters. In many instances, the deeply personal experiences that were shared had never previously been spoken of beyond immediate friends and family.  

Those Defence Team members we heard from—both civilian and military—have served Canada honourably with resilience and dedication for years—some for decades. The experiences they shared exposed persistent and deeply painful occurrences of aggressively racist behaviours, micro-aggressions, and failures of leadership to address both. What we heard was a fraction of the experiences our presenters received from Black members and employees across the Defence Team. This issue is real.

We heard that the stress of constantly being “on” and having to be aware that they were the “other” in an overwhelmingly White space—not just in the Defence Team or the Public Service, but in Canadian society as a whole. We heard about the toll on well-being that it takes to navigate Canadian society as a Black person. We heard worry that employees and members carry with them about the safety and well-being of their children, including the palpable fear of potential negative interactions with law-enforcement.

And we heard that the policies leadership design and put in place must work for those who do not have power. We must re-imagine and re-design. In addition, we heard—and we agree—that Defence Team members have the right to be listened to and taken seriously.  

The overarching message was a request that those in positions of authority take whatever action that is within our power to change the current situation for Defence Team employees who are Black, Indigenous, or other underrepresented groups within the Defence Team.

We were deeply moved and also deeply disturbed by the testimonies.

As part of the presentations, the Defence Team members who presented offered a series of recommendations that will help the institution to begin addressing racism within the Defence Team. These recommendations included but were not limited to:

We will go over the full list of recommendations in more detail in consultation with fellow leaders, the Defence Advisory Groups and others imperative to the process to discuss implementation and funding.   

The behaviours we heard about, that many of our Defence Team members have experienced at the hands of colleagues and superiors, are at odds with our institutional values and entirely unacceptable. For example, it is completely unacceptable for any Defence Team member to:

It is one thing to make a mistake based on ignorance and be open to education and change. It is quite another to persist in behaviour that is totally counter to the values and ethics of the country we serve and defend today.

Defence Team members who engage in hateful conduct will face consequences and are not welcome in this organization. You cannot defend the values of our country if your belief systems run counter to those our institution defends.

Our Minister of National Defence is fully seized with addressing racial discrimination within our organization and expects bold, decisive action from both the CAF and the Department. Senior military and civilian leadership are working together to advance current initiatives that define, measure and address hateful conduct, better integrate diversity and inclusion into corporate commitments and ensure compliance with the law under the Employment Equity Act. This will include more specific policy action, measurement, and accountabilities. It will also include tools and options for career progression, training, and an action framework that focuses on individuals, governance and system changes. Meeting the commitments we made in the 19 June statement, and the recommendations from Monday’s meeting are also part of that work. Within all this, robust communications will be key, both internally and externally. 

As your leaders, we both have a crucial role in setting the tone and leading change in an effective and enduring way. However, our institution depends and thrives on successful teams who respect and trust one another. Our actions to address the problem of racism within the Defence Team are critical for our performance and for our legitimacy as an institution.

While Monday’s meeting was impactful and productive, it was just a start. We will be meeting with the other Defence Advisory Groups to hear their stories on discrimination and systemic barriers. We know there is so much to do, and that we will be judged on our actions and results, not our sentiments and promises.

We will continue to move ahead with purpose and intention, making decisions that reflect our values and that position our institution—and all those who belong in it—for a successful future. In a Defence Team with many, many critical initiatives and operations, addressing racism and discrimination must be a priority today and into the future.

Jody Thomas
Deputy Minister of National Defence

General Jonathan Vance
Chief of the Defence Staff

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