Ombudsman concludes an historical review of employment equity and diversity

Ombudsman Message | 16 May 2022

My office recently concluded its historical review of employment equity and diversity in the Department of National Defence (DND) and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). This review is entitled Employment Equity and Diversity in the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces—Historical Efforts to Address Employment Equity.

We would like to acknowledge the excellent feedback we received about this report from stakeholders, especially the Defence Advisory Groups. This information will inform the next phases of our work in this area.

We found that, despite their efforts over the last 24 years, the DND and the CAF have “deeply embedded barriers with respect to employment equity representation goals, recruitment, career advancement, retention, and culture, which are all intertwined.” And the intertwining of these barriers makes it even more difficult for the two organizations to implement the Employment Equity Act because the challenges cannot be addressed in isolation. Addressing only one challenge will not solve the problem. For example, retention cannot be fully addressed unless the barriers around career advancement and culture are addressed. As a result, a co-ordinated approach is necessary.

Our report is unique. We examined the challenges identified in all employment equity plans, employment system reviews, Canadian Human Rights Commission and Office of the Auditor General audits, and other reports released since 1997. This is the first time that these plans, reviews, audits, and reports have been analyzed at one time in one report. Given that this report relies on historical literature, we have not made any recommendations to the Minister of National Defence. However, we did identify how employment equity issues within the DND and the CAF compare, as well as how some of the barriers impacting designated group members are connected.

In short, our review led us to a disappointing conclusion. In addition to the observation outlined above, our office also found five principal areas of concern: employment equity representation goals, recruitment, career advancement, retention, and culture.

We found over the study period a lack of coordination and forward momentum.

While Strong, Secure, Engaged: Canada’s Defence Policy, 2017, stated that the DND and the CAF are “… committed to demonstrating leadership in reflecting Canadian ideals of diversity, respect and inclusion, including striving for gender equality and building a workforce that leverages the diversity of Canadian society,” military and civilian ranks haven't experienced the intended changes.

We have seen little in terms of results to support the previous statement.

While the DND and the CAF are separate organizations that publish separate employment equity plans and undergo separate employment equity compliance, they face very similar challenges. Therefore, we grouped the two organizations’ issues according to similar themes.

Recruiting and retaining members of identified employment equity groups to fill both military and civilian ranks will lead inherently to culture change over time. For instance, recruits begin the military career at the entry level, where the CAF can bring about the greatest change. As the face of Canada continues to diversify, both organizations must refresh themselves and maximize their respective recruitment base.

Several factors demand an increasingly diverse workforce and fighting force: the evolving threat environment, increasing movement towards cyber and space domains, and non-state actors conducting asymmetrical operations. Like every competitive industry, the DND and the CAF must appeal to as many qualified people as possible. Eliminating barriers to inclusion results in more talent from which to recruit. As the Defence policy Strong, Secure, Engaged states: “Embracing diversity will enhance military operational effectiveness by drawing on all of the strengths of Canada’s population. Building a Defence team composed of people with new perspectives and a broader range of cultural, linguistic, gender, age, and other unique attributes will contribute directly to efforts to develop a deeper understanding of our increasingly complex world, and to respond effectively to the challenges it presents.”

With the CAF currently operating at a deficit of approximately 10,000 to 12,000 Regular and Reserve force members and thousands of positions unfilled in the civilian ranks, a crisis is slowly emerging. Critical to the ongoing success of the DND and the CAF is ensuring that people of diverse backgrounds consider a career in these organizations and see themselves reflected in their mandates.

Currently, our office is tracking ongoing initiatives at both the DND and the CAF. Nothing indicates whether one single coordinating body is responsible for these initiatives, and whether they can implement any recommendations or programming in the short to medium term.

Additionally, while the Chief Professional Conduct and Culture organization within the DND and the CAF has been “stood up” for potentially this coordinating purpose, their implementation is ongoing. As a result, they have not yet reached full operating capability.

It's the very diffusion of responsibility that has led us to this point. The DND and the CAF must address root causes, measure the success of the implementation of initiatives, and adjust the approach if necessary to ensure they are addressing deeply imbedded issues.

Strong, Secure, Engaged states that “People are at the core of everything the Canadian Armed Forces does to deliver on its mandate.” The CAF published these words two decades after the first initiatives were put in place to tackle diversity in the ranks.

Five years later, the CAF still hasn't delivered on its promises.

With the Defence team failing to advance efforts on employment equity over the past quarter-century, the DND and the CAF need a new approach—one that innovates, coordinates, and has appropriate resources. They must act differently.

Before publishing our reports, the Minister has 28 days to review and respond to our recommendations. Traditionally, we publish this response alongside our report. The ministerial hold for this report has expired. We have been informed that the Minister will provide her response in due course.


Gregory A. Lick, CD


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