Ombudsman Finds the Grievance Process Unfair to Canadian Forces Members


Ottawa, May 18, 2010 – The Ombudsman for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces, Mr. Pierre Daigle, today released a special report, entitled The Canadian Forces Grievance Process: Making It Right for Those Who Serve. The report highlights deficiencies in the grievance process that are causing further hardship for Canadian Forces members who have already been wronged.

As a result of a comprehensive investigation, the Ombudsman found that the redress of grievance process, which is supposed to provide soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen with a quick and informal mechanism to challenge Canadian Forces actions and resolve matters without the need of the courts or other processes, is flawed and unfair.

Specifically, the Office of the Ombudsman determined that the Chief of the Defence Staff, who is the final decision-maker in the grievance process, does not have the authority to provide financial compensation to fully resolve an unfairness. Instead, when a claim for compensation arising from a grievance is made, it is a Department of Justice lawyer – not the Chief of the Defence Staff – who determines if compensation should be paid to the Canadian Forces member.

 “It simply defies logic that the Chief of the Defence Staff is charged with the control and administration of the Canadian Forces, but is not given the authority to pay out a $50 claim,” stated Mr. Daigle. He added, “It also seems unreasonable that a government lawyer, whose role is to provide advice, has more decision-making authority regarding compensation than the Chief of the Defence Staff.” 

The Office of the Ombudsman also found that, when considering the issue of compensation, government lawyers rely on government-wide policies and directives that are often at odds with the goals and principles of the military grievance process, usually resulting in the denial of compensation requests. According to statistics provided by the Director General Canadian Forces Grievance Authority for the period between 2000 and 2007, government lawyers have made decisions on monetary compensation matters in 52 grievances that were referred to them by the Chief of the Defence Staff. And they have granted compensation in only 15 of these 52 cases.

Moreover, when claims are rejected, Canadian Forces members are informed that they must initiate legal action against the Government of Canada in order to obtain compensation. However, unbeknownst to most men and women in uniform, legal action will rarely be heard by a court because previous courts have ruled there is no legally enforceable employment contract between the Crown and Canadian Forces members.

As a result of the investigation, the Ombudsman concluded that it is necessary that the Chief of the Defence Staff be able to grant financial compensation for the simple reason that, in certain circumstances, fairness cannot be achieved by any other means.

 “If a Judge Advocate General officer in Afghanistan has the authority to award compensation to an Afghan farmer for damage to his property, it makes no sense that the Chief of the Defence Staff cannot grant financial compensation to fully resolve a legitimate grievance from a Canadian Forces member,” stated the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman’s office is not the first to recognize this problem nor is it the first to make recommendations that it be fixed. Indeed, after an external independent review in 2003, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Antonio Lamer, recommended that the Chief of the Defence Staff be given authority to settle financial claims in grievances. In his report, the former Chief Justice stated, “Soldiers are not second class citizens. They are entitled to be treated with respect, and in the case of the grievance process, in a procedurally fair manner. This is a fundamental principle that must not be lost in a bureaucratic process, even a military one.” 

 “A proper grievance process must be able to determine whether someone was treated fairly as well as to correct any unfair or improper treatment,” stated Mr. Daigle. He added,  “I am optimistic that, with clear direction from the Minister of National Defence, the problem will be resolved and the grievance system will be improved to actually serve the men and women of the Canadian Forces as it was intended.”   

In releasing The Canadian Forces Grievance Process: Making It Right for Those Who Serve, the Ombudsman made five recommendations to the Minister of National Defence, which are intended to ensure that all military members are treated fairly by the Canadian Forces grievance process.

A complete list of the recommendations, and additional information on the Office of the Ombudsman’s report, can be found on the office’s website.

For additional information, please contact:

Michelle Laliberté
Senior Communications Advisor
Office of the National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman
Tel.: (613) 995-8643

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