By: David Pugliese, The National Post
The Canadian military will review its badges, uniforms, flags and associated ceremonial activities to ensure they are welcoming to women, visible minorities, the disabled, indigenous people and members of the gay and transgender communities.
The move is part of the Canadian Armed Forces Diversity Strategy approved last May by Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance.
It is now up to the Canadian Forces to figure out how to move ahead with Vance’s strategy, and in January of this year the military produced a diversity strategy action plan, which was forwarded to the Ottawa Citizen by sources inside National Defence headquarters.
The action plan focuses on Designated Group Members, which the Canadian Forces defines as women, Indigenous people, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities. Also included in the strategy is the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning and 2-Spirited) community. The plan includes a detailed list of initiatives the Forces can take to accommodate those members, among them:
• “Review current dress, badges, flags, music, lineages, affiliations, drill and ceremonial, etc. and ensure these customs complement and expand towards a more diverse and inclusive national military institution (Allow dress appropriate to one’s gender identity.)”
• “Consider family circumstances when posting CAF members, including if possible, geographic proximity to family for cultural reasons, when requested.”
• “Dedicate a room at the workplace where CAF members feel encouraged and not at risk to practice their religion.”
• “Develop policy and guidelines to address the spiritual needs of Indigenous CAF Members.”
Other initiatives to be considered involve examining military equipment and infrastructure to “accommodate the needs of Designated Group Members and other members with specific needs,” and ways to improve healthcare and family support for the various individuals, which would include “traditional healing, spiritual needs, specific accommodations – dietary needs.”
Messages about employment equity and diversity will also be included in all Canadian Forces advertising and displays, according to the action plan, and military leaders will have to undergo diversity training to be considered for promotion.
Department of National Defence spokeswoman Suzanne Parker said Vance approved the action plan earlier this year. The approach is intended to be as comprehensive as possible, she said, accounting for the many differences that exist among Canadian military personnel beyond the four designated groups.
“Many of the initiatives, programs and other activities identified in this Action Plan are already in place, are ongoing or will soon be implemented,” Parker said in an email. “The Diversity Strategy’s Action Plan is expected to be fully implemented by the end of 2018.”
The military hopes the diversity strategy will help with recruitment.
It’s unclear at this point how equipment, uniforms, flags and ceremonial activities might be changed to be more accommodating.
In February, Vance was questioned at a defence conference in Ottawa about body armour and other gear not being properly fitted for women. The general agreed, and said that if the Canadian Forces wants to “become more diverse and inclusive, we’re going to have to change.”
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The Canadian military has tried previously to change or alter some of its equipment for women. In 1997 it earmarked more than $2 million for creating what it believed would be the world’s first combat bra. The project was eventually abandoned.
Over the last several years, the Canadian Forces have been under fire for incidents of sexual assault and misconduct, most of it directed towards women. In an April 30, 2015 report, former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps found that not only was sexual misconduct “endemic” in the Canadian Forces but that it was condoned by the military leadership.
During her year-long investigation, Deschamps interviewed hundreds of full- and part-time military personnel, as well as commanding officers, military police, chaplains, nurses and social workers. The interviews pointed to what she described as a “hostile sexualized environment” in the military, particularly among recruits and the junior ranks. “At the most extreme, these reports of sexual violence highlighted the use of sex to enforce power relationships,” said Deschamps’ report, “and to punish and ostracize a member of a unit.”
Vance has condemned such behaviour and has vowed to take a tough approach against involved in sexual misconduct. Although he has acknowledged that sexual misconduct is a problem in the Canadian Forces, he also recently blamed the news media for reporting on such incidents, saying the media has created a “toxic” narrative about the military.