Eliminating Racial Discrimination: Let’s Keep the Conversation Going

May 7, 2021 -  Defence Stories

On March 21, members of the Defence Team commemorated the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination by participating in virtual events across the country marking the day. They took to social media to raise awareness with the theme: “Steps Towards Inclusion: Defining the Journey.” We invite all Defence Team members to keep this conversation going about how we can become a more inclusive organization.

Leaders at all levels are encouraged to engage in respectful, transparent and proactive dialogue about racial discrimination. Listening to lived experiences can inform us about the systemic barriers that some of our Defence Team colleagues face on a daily basis. All forms of racism are destructive, so we must remain dedicated to understanding, consulting, discussing and asking questions about the current, real-life experiences that our members are facing.

To do so, we need to acknowledge that all forms of racism and discrimination are not limited to anti-Indigenous, anti-Black and other racialized people. They also encompass LGBTQ2+ prejudice, gender bias, and white supremacy.

Inclusion is a core value for the Department of National Defence (DND) and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), and our senior leaders are committed to achieving it. That’s why, in the past year, DND/CAF issued a hateful conduct policy, the Minister of National Defence, the Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, launched an Advisory Panel on Racism and Discrimination, and the Deputy Minister and the Chief of the Defence Staff stood up an Anti-Racism Secretariat. Both of these entities are providing advice and recommendations on how to eliminate systemic barriers within our organization in order to increase recruitment and retention in the CAF, and to ensure equality of opportunity for all members of the Defence Team. But there is more to do.

Recently, Minister Sajjan announced the Government of Canada’s intention to apologize on behalf of all Canadians to the descendants of the No. 2 Construction Battalion. Initially turned away from recruiting centres, this group of Black soldiers was eventually authorized to serve in a non-combatant role. Because of the colour of their skin, they were denied the chance to fight alongside their white compatriots and endured discrimination, segregation and mistreatment in the process. As Minister Sajjan has said, “There are painful parts of our history -- experiences of injustice and intolerance -- that we must recognize.”

MGen Steven Whelan, the Defence Team Champion for Visible Minorities, also knows that fostering diversity on the Defence Team makes us stronger as an organization. And including and celebrating the varied talents, perspectives and cultures of all of our soldiers, sailors and aviators enables them to fully contribute to the execution of CAF missions, at home and abroad.

“Racially discriminatory behaviour, hateful conduct of any kind, is at odds with our institutional values and is entirely unacceptable,” says MGen Whelan. “It is one thing to make a mistake based on ignorance, but be open to education and change. It is quite another to persist in behaviour that does not align with the values and ethics of our organization and the country we serve.”

We all need to be aware of our unconscious and conscious biases. All DND employees and CAF members have the right to be treated fairly, with respect and dignity, in a workplace free from racism and discrimination. We know our journey of self-improvement, individually and as an organization, has many steps remaining, and we will continue to reinforce our commitment to a respectful and inclusive workplace. We must all commit to listen, learn, and act moving forward. Not just on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, but every day.

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