Letter To Commanding Officer Of 1CRPG On Ombudsman’s Visit To 1CRPG

12 May 2016

Major Craig Volstad
Commanding Officer
1st Canadian Rangers Patrol Group
Box 6666, Station Main
Yellowknife, NT
X1A 2R3

 

Dear Major Volstad,

I would like to personally thank you and Chief Warrant Officer André Lavallée for the hospitality, openness and access offered to my staff and I during our visit. Thank you for coordinating the visits to the Gamètì and Behchoko patrols.

I am writing to follow up on our visit to the 1st Canadian Rangers Patrol Group (1 CRPG) Yellowknife from April 11-15, 2016. During this visit, my staff and I were pleased to meet with and listen to concerns and positive feedback from military personnel, specifically Canadian Rangers (CR), civilian employees and military family members of your group. We left with valuable information about working and living north of the 60th parallel, and the specific challenges it brings.

This letter is to highlight some of the concerns that we heard during our visit. I recognize that you and your staff are aware of these issues, but I thought it would be helpful to detail them nonetheless and to offer you our assistance should you wish to follow up on any of these matters. I am a firm believer that collaboration and sharing best practices lead to long-lasting positive changes.

As part of my visit to Yellowknife, I was very interested in learning more about the Canadian Rangers, members of my constituency that I had not had the chance to engage since the start of my mandate. During my visit to your site and two of your 60 patrols, it was evident our Canadian Rangers are proud members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), eager to share the knowledge, challenges and beauty of their land and to assist in any way they can.

The span of responsibility of 1 CRPG is impressive to say the least. 60 Canadian Rangers patrols for a total of 1,750 Canadian Rangers cover 40% of the Canadian land mass and lead 1,600 Junior Canadian Rangers (JCR). To support both programs, you have in place devoted personnel who, despite all efforts, are struggling to meet the mandated tasks, let alone meet the new demands for long term sustainability. I was surprised to learn your Instructor-to-Canadian Ranger ratio was 1:175, and the manning priority for your unit is the lowest (priority 6).

I would like to focus on issues particular to 1 CRPG HQ and its patrols. Common themes heard amongst all staff during our Yellowknife engagement included: housing, childcare and denial of long term storage relocation benefit. Concerns regarding the Reserve annuitant policy and pay and benefits are being addressed with the Commander of Joint Task Force North.

1 CRPG Realities

During our visit, you introduced your staff, currently 52 individuals, and discussed the need to increase staff to 80 as a minimum, and to 100 in order to be more realistic considering the mandated requirements. As I pursue my review of the Canadian Rangers, I will have a look at the ratio of CR instructors to Canadian Rangers for all CRPGs. You stated that you were only able to perform about 180 of the mandated 300 activities per year with the staff you currently have.

The extent of the isolation of the communities of your 60 patrols is evident, and it is clear you witness how much effort, time and coordination is required. Furthermore, communication is an ever present challenge. Canadian Rangers in the Northwest Territories have 11 official languages, not counting other dialects spoken in the communities. Each of the Canadian Rangers also have various levels of knowledge and ability to communicate in English. On the technical side, some communities are only able to communicate via fax, and not all faxes are working. The reality is there is no central method of reaching each of the communities; a challenge you and your staff face daily.

Items/ Issues important to Canadian Rangers

Both of the CR patrols we visited mentioned their interest in having more activities in order to maintain their winter and summer skills for patrolling the land. Some of the specific training mentioned was: mechanical skills for snowmobiles repairs, training with tools, and helicopter crash training. I was pleased to hear that you are consulting your patrols and offering to work with the Canadian Rangers Instructors to plan and organize the training, according to the CR needs.

In many of the exchanges with the CR, the issue of “southern” policies not being realistically applicable for the North was voiced, for example: delays in reimbursement, security checks, and range authorization. This is a recurring issue that I will bring to the attention of the policy makers and reiterate the importance of considering all classes and components of the Reserve Force in CAF policies.

Rangers also brought up the issue of not having their Canadian Armed Forces identification card. Only 5% of 1 CRPG CR currently have one.  To them, this is more than just a piece of identification; it is a card they own with pride, a reminder of their daily contribution to the CAF at large.

The current method to issue military pay is either by cheque or direct funds transfer. Although this may appear adequate for federal employees, it is problematic for CR, due to some CR having the same name and initial or others having more than one service number. This leads to pay errors which are difficult to rectify. We heard it has an impact on CR recruitment since cash salary payment is no longer an option. In isolated communities, being paid by cheque represents a constraint considerable enough to discourage some candidates to join the CR.

Although being considered self-sufficient at enrollment, 1 CRPG Rangers face the difficult reality of the rising price of the equipment they need to live and operate in the North and in remote locations (snowmobiles and ATVs). It is not surprising that many Rangers mentioned that they were unable to afford a snowmobile to start with, having to borrow one when patrolling.

Canadian Rangers who use their snowmobile or ATV during patrols and exercises are reimbursed according to the Equipment Usage Rate (EUR), as per Land Force Command Order 11-99 published in 2011. In both town halls, Rangers raised the fact that the rates are no longer sufficient considering the actual cost. For example, a snowmobile belt costs $150, and the daily EUR is $200. You mentioned a submission was made to raise the EUR to $250. I will ask my staff to follow up on this. 

Delays in reimbursement of damaged equipment have a significant impact on the entire community. When a Ranger’s snowmobile is permanently damaged, he or she can no longer check his or her traps and continue fishing or hunting on the land. Consequently, a delay of two to three months for reimbursement has a tremendous impact on the daily life of the Ranger and his or her family.

Both patrols we visited expressed their interest in starting a Junior Canadian Rangers Program (JCR) in their communities.  You mentioned that it is difficult to engage adults in communities to start and support the program as 70% of patrols do not have an adult committee for the Junior Canadian Rangers. During your patrol visit, you informed the CR of the steps required to start the program and that you are working with your Ranger Instructors to progress this initiative.  You encouraged CR to involve youth during their meetings, despite not having a JCR program in place.  As your organization currently stands, you are not sufficiently resourced to expand the JCR program despite a growing interest.

In general, there were three sources of dissatisfaction raised that are linked to the limited resources the 1 CRPG HQ has, coupled with “red tape”:

  • Years of service, like for any Canadian Forces member, are a source of pride for Canadian Rangers. We spoke with Rangers who were waiting for their Canadian Decoration (CD) or their Special Service Medal (SSM) Bar Order "Ranger".  These delays were a source of dissatisfaction.
  • The delays in issuing the Rangers winter jackets was another issue we heard in both patrols.
  • The shooting competition, where the best shooter obtains the cross rifles badge, is of great importance and very motivating for communities. Not being able to conduct one yearly has been raised as a concern.

Canadian Rangers training is currently voluntary.  The possibility of making it mandatory was discussed in the patrols, without consensus at this point. I would be interested to get the feedback you heard from the graduates of the Canadian Ranger Basic Military Indoctrination pilot-course (CRBMI), hosted in Farnham QC. 

I was pleased to hear the Canadian Rangers and the Rangers Instructors were familiar with the requirement to report injuries and the different forms related to documenting any injury.

CR Instructors

A concern raised was the inadequate preparation CAF members have before assuming the role of CR Instructors. The need for preparation is related to the span of responsibilities, the realities of the challenges in many communities and the weight of responsibilities of being an Instructor for many patrols.  Staff mentioned how difficult it was for CR Instructors to come back to Yellowknife and as a result to have no one to speak with of what they witnessed.  I am glad that the medical and Military Families Resource Centre social worker is aware of this reality and looking to offer debrief sessions when they return from a difficult patrol; they need to be supported.

The CR Instructors are away from home more than when they were in combat units. Some can be away 135 days per year.  A posting to Yellowknife is definitely a high tempo posting, contrary to what some families were expecting.  The serving member being home two days and back out again is not what the majority of spouses expected.

Based on questions and issues raised during my visit, I have asked my staff to further look into the following:

  • What are the determinants for designating positions for Land Duty Allowance (LDA) and if they could be applicable to certain positions of 1 CRPG;
  • The classes of Reserve Service under which Canadian Rangers and Canadian Rangers Instructors are employed in the context of training and operations such as Op NANOOK, in comparison with other Reserve Force taskings for the same exercises; and
  • How was the Canadian Rangers pay rate (Private (trained)) was determined and if it is being considered for review

In closing, I would like again to thank you and your staff for your help in the organization and the execution of a very successful constituent engagement visit.  It allowed me to get a brief overview of the different needs for the Canadian Rangers of the 1 CRPG and to reiterate the crucial importance of consultation and consideration for accommodation in developing Canadian Armed Forces policies and services.  You have highlighted the need for more frequent presence and interactions to best build and maintain relationships, both with southern Canada but also with the 60 patrols you command. This visit made it clear that a review of the program is needed before any changes are made to the Canadian Rangers Program.

 

Sincerely,

Gary Walbourne
Ombudsman

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