Black History Month: Changing Through Listening

February 15, 2021 – Defence Stories

Black History Month 2021 - The Future is Now<
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Black History Month 2021 - The Future is Now

Everyone agrees – 2020 was a year of unprecedented events, global change, and important discussions on racism and discrimination. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and Department of National Defence (DND) were certainly not exempt from this conversation. In the weeks following the Black Lives Matter events in the United Sates, several discussions on racism and the unfair treatment of Black people occurred across the CAF/DND. In the summer, a roundtable was held with representatives from our Employment Equity Defence Advisory Groups (DAG) – 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 (FBEC).

The Deputy Minister (DM) Jody Thomas and the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) worked with, and actively engaged with, the Visible Minority DAG as they shared their lived experiences and identified systemic barriers that they and other colleagues have endured and that they face on a daily basis.

As a result, the DM and CDS took action. They communicated to the Defence Team that racism and the unfair treatment of Black DND/CAF staff and members exists, and will not be tolerated. To underscore this, they put measures in place to help affected staff and members report incidents of racism and hurtful behaviour, and to feel supported in getting such matters dealt with. They also committed to keeping the dialogue going to continue to effect meaningful change.

In addition, Vice-Admiral Haydn Edmundson, Commander Military Personnel Command and Defence Team Champion for Visible Minorities, communicated his stance on racism and discrimination with Defence Team members in an internal message on June 29, 2020. He stated that discrimination and racist conduct, be it through words, actions or inactions, is completely incompatible with our institutional values and ethics and will not be tolerated. Since efforts to foster diversity and inclusion will not, on their own, stamp out racist and discriminatory behaviour, Vice-Admiral Edmundson pledged to work with all members of the Defence Team towards a prolonged and sustained solution.

To reinforce all of these stated intentions, a strengthened CAF hateful conduct directive was issued in July 2020 addressing this topic. In DAOD-5019-0 and the associated MPC Directive, the definitions, expectations, responsibilities and consequences around hateful conduct by CAF members are clearly laid out. Behaviour that causes Black members (or others) to feel discriminated against will be acted upon without hesitation by CAF leadership.

Most recently, in December 2020, the Minister of National Defence established the CAF/DND Anti-Racism Secretariat and announced the launch of the MND External Advisory Panel on Anti-Racism & Discrimination with a focus on anti-indigenous and anti-black racism, LGBTQ2+ prejudice, gender bias, and white supremacy. This panel will provide advice on how we can ensure, as an institution that individuals who hold racist or white supremacist beliefs are not allowed to enter into or remain in our organization.

The acceptance of diversity in the CAF is a force generator that improves our operational effectiveness. So it is up to all of us to ensure that discrimination of any kind has no place in our institution. And not just during Black History Month. Always.

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