Letter to Base Commander: concerning visit CFB Kingston

29 March 2018

 

Colonel J.G.P. Lemyre
Commander
Canadian Forces Base Kingston
PO Box 17000 Station Forces
Kingston ON K7K 7B4

 

Dear Colonel Lemyre:

I am writing to follow up on our visit to Canadian Forces Base Kingston from 19-22 February 2018. During our visit, my staff and I were pleased to meet with military personnel, military family members, DND civilian employees, and Non-Public Funds / Personnel Support Program employees. The feedback that we received during these engagements helped to provide a picture of what is working well on the base and which areas have room for improvement.

This letter will elaborate on the end of visit debrief that I provided to you and Sergeant Major, Chief Warrant Officer Aman, and highlight some of the main points that were raised. I recognize that you and your staff are aware of these issues and my Office stands ready to assist should you wish to follow up on any of these matters. I am a firm believer that collaboration and the sharing of best practices can lead to long-lasting positive change.

BGRS

Numerous concerns regarding BGRS relocations came up during my team’s visit. Issues include delays in mailing the reloadable declining balance ReloCards, a lack of virtual assistance, a lack of training material, and reimbursement issues for relocation files that pre-date the new contract. Similar concerns have come up in recent visits to other locations and my Office is taking steps to look into the matter further with Director General Compensation and Benefits.

Phoenix and Civilian Staffing

When my team met with DND civilian staff, we heard complaints regarding delays in the civilian classification process, outdated work descriptions, and associated grievances. These issues regularly come up at stakeholder engagements across Canada and can have a significant impact on employees and their families. In order to address these concerns, my Office will be launching a systemic investigation of civilian classification delays and classification grievances.

In several instances, military and civilian managers identified bilingualism requirements as a barrier to staffing positions ranging from administrative support to medical and psycho-social professionals. In certain cases, it was identified that positions had remained vacant for years due to the inability to find bilingual staff, despite the fact that the client-base was primarily English-speaking. My Office will be engaging Assistant Deputy Minister (Human Resources-Civilian) to determine what options exist to facilitate staffing efforts while ensuring that members of the Defence community continue to have access to service in the language of their choice.

Complaints regarding the Phoenix pay system continue to be raised during constituent engagements. I encourage all individuals affected by pay issues to continue using the pay escalation process and to contact my Office if they are unable to address their concerns.

Allowances and Training

Concerns about delays in training and allowances were raised in multiple meetings. My team was informed that CAF members on the Basic Training List can experience lengthy wait times for training, which impacts morale and performance. We also heard that additional education on benefits and allowances would assist members in selecting options that suit their personal and family circumstances (i.e., de-linking rations and quarters, benefits and limitations associated with prohibited postings).

My team was also advised of concerns about allowance entitlements. More specifically, instructors at the Canadian Army Doctrine and Training Centre Headquarters spend significant amounts of time in the field but are not entitled to receive land duty allowance (LDA). Given the amount of time apart from their families, this was reported to impact instructors’ morale, and may be a limiting factor in attracting CAF members to occupy instructor positions.

Infrastructure

My team heard multiple complaints regarding infrastructure issues across the base. Many of these issues could pose health and safety concerns to those who access the facilities. Concerns include leaking roofs, climate control issues, a lack of a base recycling policy, and a lack of wheelchair access to buildings on the base. My Office will be reaching out to Assistant Deputy Minister (Infrastructure and Environment) to bring visibility to these issues.

Wi-Fi

The lack of Wi-Fi was raised as a concern during multiple meetings. My team was informed that Wi-Fi access in the chapel, the Military Family Resource Centre, the gym, and the museum was essential to the delivery of services and support to members of the Defence community. We were told that security reasons were cited as the rationale for not permitting Wi-Fi in these locations. However, it was also identified that wireless internet access is permitted at the Royal Military College and that other bases and wings across Canada permit wireless access.

Access to Career Managers

My Office is aware that Career Managers regularly deal with a heavy workload and that it is essential for the chain of command to be involved in discussions regarding changes in personal or family circumstances that impact a member’s ability to be posted.

However, my team was informed that in some cases, members are unable to raise time sensitive issues directly to their Career Manager. My team was also informed that a member’s CAF support network (i.e., their Chaplain) should be able to contact the Career Manager directly in cases where the member requires additional support.

Following my visit, my Office obtained clarification from Director Military Careers confirming that any CAF member can contact their Career Manager directly to communicate a change in their situation. My Education and Collaboration team will be developing information products to help raise awareness of the steps to follow when a member has personal or family circumstances that could impact their ability to be posted.

Sexual Misconduct

The positive impacts of Operation Honour were identified on multiple occasions. However, concerns were raised about access to due process for individuals accused of sexual assault, specifically with respect to the length of time being taken to investigate allegations of assault and the fair treatment of the accused during the investigation.

Another point of concern includes the perceived lack of independence and confidentiality of the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre (SMRC). My team was informed that a perception exists that members who access the SMRC’s services should not provide their name or rank as this information is reported to the chain of command. My Office will be connecting with the SMRC to discuss this concern further.

It was also identified that the recent Chief of the Defence Staff direction on professional military conduct would require further clarification. My team was informed that supervisors need more guidance on how to proceed when they become aware of unprofessional conduct, for example activities on social media, that predates a member’s service.

Military Family Resource Centre

A number of concerns came out of our meetings with family members and MFRC staff. These include: the denial of post-secondary scholarships due to a change in the province of residence after posting, higher costs to apply for post-secondary education from out-of-province, a lack of bilingual resources, challenges in securing spousal employment and provincial reciprocity for licensing/accreditation, difficulty in securing a family doctor, lengthy wait lists for medical and special needs care, and delays in accessing special needs support for children after a posting. As many of these concerns relate to areas under provincial jurisdiction, my Office has connected with Mr. Gerretsen, Member of Parliament, to request his assistance in raising the awareness of military families challenges and advancing initiatives that will improve their welfare.

Health Services and Mental Health

In speaking with health services and mental health staff, my team learned about multiple initiatives that are contributing to the health and well-being of CAF members. For example, the new clinic at the Royal Military College (RMC) provides increased access to medical care for students. A resiliency group at RMC provides an important support to students whose training is out of sequence. My team was informed that the base clinic was asked to set up a similar program for personnel awaiting training at the Canadian Forces School of Communications and Electronics.

The clinic staff indicated that communication and partnerships with the base leadership are incredibly beneficial. We were also told that despite staff shortages, there has been an increase in access to services, the positive results of which can be seen in the patients.

Stigma surrounding access to mental health care remains a challenge and my team was informed that there is a perception amongst CAF members that reporting for a “mental health tune-up” may result in individuals being screened red for postings and deployments. My Office strongly encourages members to access mental health support where required and we remain ready to assist in promoting the awareness of mental health initiatives.

My team also heard concerns about the Return to Work (RTW) program. It was suggested that when a CAF member on RTW undergoes an occupational transfer as part of their reintegration, they should be permitted to remain in their current RTW placement until the start of their training rather than being posted to the Basic Training List. Given that the intent of the CAF RTW program is to provide a supportive work environment to increase the potential for a successful return to duty, I would encourage further consideration of this suggestion.

The Journey

Throughout my team’s visit, questions about the Journey Initiative were raised. There is a perceived disconnect between the strategic message and CAF members’ reported experience at the tactical level. CAF members asked that further information be provided to outline the Journey Initiative’s progress and projected milestones.

Despite the concerns raised, a resounding message that was heard throughout my visit was the positive shift in culture and the dedication of the DND/CAF leadership to improve the lives and well-being of the CAF members and civilian staff who serve under your command.

I recognize that many of the challenges that exist are, to some extent, beyond your control. In these cases, I would encourage you to continue addressing local concerns to 4th Canadian Division. My team and I are available if you require assistance. In the meantime, my Office will be engaging with DND/CAF leadership on several of the issues mentioned above and some will also feed into our systemic reviews.

In closing, I would like to extend my sincere appreciation for the hospitality and support that was provided to my team throughout our visit. The representatives of each cadre who welcomed my team, assisted in equipment set up, and provided tours of the facilities were instrumental in the success of the constituent engagement.

Sincerely,

 

Gary Walbourne
Ombudsman

 

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