Letter to Commander JTF(N) on Ombudsman's Visit to Yellowknife

9 May 2016


Brigadier-General Mike Nixon
Commander Joint Task Force (North)
Box 6666, Station Main
Yellowknife, NT X1A 2R3


Dear Brigadier-General Nixon,  

I would like to personally thank you, Captain (Navy) Peats and Chief Warrant Officer Beyerbach, for the hospitality, openness and access offered to my staff and I during our visit.

I am writing to follow up on our visit to Joint Task Force (North) 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, civilian employees and military family members of your formation. 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.

This letter focusses on issues particular to Joint Task Force (North) (JTFN); issues particular to the 1st Canadian Rangers Patrol Group (1 CRPG) Headquarters and its patrols are addressed in a separate letter to the Commanding Officer, Major Volstad.

Long Term Storage (LTS)

A common issue raised by Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members and their families was the requirement for Long Term Storage (LTS), a relocation benefit that has not been approved since 2014. The absence of basements, the availability of one parking space per house, and housing size in Yellowknife remain the same. Furthermore, many bases and wings in Canada have access to some storage with Personnel Support Programs (PSP), where they can store recreational vehicles. This is no longer the case in Yellowknife.  I will bring the concern regarding LTS to the Director General Compensation and Benefits.

Relocation adjudication delays

Another issue related to relocation is the delays for adjudication decisions from the Director Compensation and Benefits Administration.  CAF personnel asked if I had visibility on this and, indeed, it is one issue I am following up for status and progress on the management action plan.

Medical Staff Pressure and Mental Health Access

Yellowknife is categorized as type 2 clinic (under 2,000 persons) but this does not seem to take into account Whitehorse, Iqaluit, Canadian Rangers, other CAF members who come to the Northwest Territories on exercise and access medical care. Additionally, under the Northern Employment and Support Plan, the formation has grown from 125 personnel in 2007 to now close to 300 personnel. Despite this increase, the support and medical staff (1 Field Ambulance Detachment) positions remain unchanged. Although I saw a team that effectively works together and in the best interest of the patients, I am worried that the current situation is unsustainable for both the care of your CAF members and for the medical staff themselves. 

Additionally, I was surprised to hear the Medical Officer position is actually a military manning overhead (MMO) which leaves a Physician Assistant (PA), as the permanent medical support in Yellowknife. We heard that because PAs are not recognized in the Northwest Territories, this means every time the PA needs to refer a patient in the community, for mental health services, for example, he/she needs to do it through Edmonton Health Services.

Reserve Force positions and backfills

The difficulty in filling Reserve Force Class “B” positions has been raised. The same challenge exists to backfill positions during parental leave or other requirements. Despite using Canadian Forces taskings and operations (CFTPO) opportunities, no candidates apply. The challenge of filling and backfilling positions was raised by all JTFN and detachments.

Childcare and hours of work

Childcare remains a major stressor for families of young children. The absence or rarity of childcare for infants and toddlers makes it further challenging for spouses who work outside the home.

Also, because few schools offer before school care, members raised their concerns regarding the difficulty to balance early work schedules and school aged children.

Outdated work descriptions

At the JTFN Formation town hall, like at many other locations in Canada, civilian employees expressed their frustration regarding outdated work descriptions. As I explained, work descriptions are to be reviewed every five years and it is my intention to publish an education piece to inform both managers and employees of their responsibilities and rights.

Screening, Sponsors and Information on postings to North of 60

At all levels, we heard only positive things about the Joint Task Force North & North of 60 MFRC 2016 Posting Handbook Location: Yellowknife and the Realistic Living Conditions Preview for CAF Postings to Yellowknife, NWT. Having this information accessible and ahead of a posting has contributed greatly to manage expectations and encourages contact with Military Families Resource Centre (MFRC), PSP and the Housing Clerk ahead of posting. This coupled with the fact that a sponsor is now assigned during the screening process is another of the best practices that I am glad to see.

North of 60 MFRC

Another dedicated group is your MFRC staff. They engage early with families undergoing screening for postings and are there to facilitate the integration of families and provide them access to or information regarding services according to the needs. The MFRC Spouse Facebook page has proven to be a useful tool for spouses to prepare before the posting. The Director Military Family Services’ Guide A Family Guide to the Military Experience, was also mentioned as a great tool, especially for families who recently joined the CAF. 

Personnel Support Programs (PSP) staff

A posting to Yellowknife or North of 60 is unique. Certain difficulties in “the South” are only multiplied and exacerbated in the North. The eight months of darkness and cold takes its toll on some individuals more than others. The majority of members and families we have heard do their best to make the most of their experience. The busy social calendar is certainly one of the points highlighted as being uplifting for members, staff and families alike who are in Yellowknife.


Military families posted to Yellowknife have the option to access government housing, rent or purchase a home in the community. The high cost of utilities during winter as well as the quality, affordability and smaller size of the housing available on the market have been raised by families as constraints specific to Yellowknife. 

Government housing in Yellowknife is provided by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), who also provide housing to about ten other government departments. Up until last year, the coordination of housing between PSPC and CAF families was done remotely, by CFHA Edmonton. This was particularly challenging for all parties and less than adequate for families in Yellowknife. Since last year, a housing clerk position has been established and we heard only positive feedback.   

During our visit, we witnessed a responsive and effective team who facilitates the housing distribution and resolves housing issues. The position of the housing clerk is undoubtedly an essential one and has proven to be directly responsible of enhancement of services and resolution of housing issues. From the moment CAF members are screening, Ms. Evelyn Keeping contacts families to know what their needs are and try to accommodate their requests, as an example, being close to a specific school. This initial contact greatly contributes to setting the stage for a good posting in the North. Numerous families have provided positive feedback about Ms. Keeping which can be summarized as “she makes a world of a difference”.

Members and staff discussed the frustrations and inconvenience of coordinating the scheduled maintenance.  PSPC currently requires 5 days’ notice to vacate, leaving repairs and maintenance to be done once occupants are already moved in. Another frustration is related to the limited window of time members have to select PSPC housing units. In other locations in the country, DND accommodation guidelines allow the member 60 days prior to posting to select CFHA unit during a house hunting trip (HHT). However, in Yellowknife, the member is allowed 45 days. Someone who comes in on a HHT for more than 45 days prior to posting may not have the house they visited on their HHT but another one once posted.

I am concerned with the control of the keys for accessing units for repairs and maintenance. Some reported incidents clearly demonstrate a lack of control of the keys, which unlike other locations in Canada, are held by PSPC.

Hopefully the incoming permanent PSPC manager will facilitate the discussion and collaboration to resolve these issues. I am interested in your feedback, should there still be problems.

I would like to congratulate Ms. Keeping, Housing Clerk, for her initiative to take pictures of PSPC housing with room measurements. This type of information allows incoming families to better plan their move of household goods and effects. I will gladly promote this initiative on my web site once the pictures are ready.  


A general comment expressed during our visit was the need to adapt or make exceptions to policies to meet the needs and restrictions of the North.

In closing, I would like to thank you and your staff for your help in the organization and the execution of a very successful constituent engagement visit. It gave me a better understanding of the challenges and needs related to being posted and living in Yellowknife. It also provided me with a brief overview of the Canadian Rangers of 1 CRPG constituency and the needs of your formation personnel. You have a group of dedicated and motivated staff who you can be proud of. 



Gary Walbourne



c.c:      Lieutenant-General C.T. Whitecross
Commander of Military Personnel Command
1 Field Ambulance Edmonton
Canadian Forces Housing Agency - Housing Services Centre Edmonton

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