Message from the Ombudsman (April 20, 2015)

Ombudsman Recommends Creation of Family Coordinator Position to Identify Needs of Military Families during Board of Inquiry Process 

Over the past 10 years, our Office has been tracking and reporting on issues related to how the Canadian Armed Forces interact with military families during a Board of Inquiry process.

Our first report on this subject, When a Soldier Falls, was published in 2005. It resulted in a complete review of the Board of Inquiry process by the Canadian Armed Forces, along with 36 recommendations aimed at making the process more consistent, coherent and reliable. In the months and years to follow, several other initiatives and directives took place, including the signing of a Canadian Forces Family Covenant in 2008.

A review done by our Office in 2009 found that while there had been some improvement, there were still many areas where more assertive action needed to be taken. The Minister of National Defence recognized that Boards of Inquiry sometimes lack the compassion needed by families, and outlined 13 initiatives of the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff to improve the process.

Our most recent review found that although much progress has been made over the past four years, Boards of Inquiry remain military-centric and difficult to understand for many families.

We believe that families should be given the option of engagement throughout the Board of Inquiry process via a method of their choosing. However, there is currently not enough data and family feedback to decide the best way forward.

As a result, we are recommending that a family coordinator position be created for a one-year trial period to help identify the needs of families and effective methods of communication and liaison. This recommendation will help ensure that the Canadian Armed Forces are better equipped to reinforce family inclusiveness in the Board of Inquiry process.

We have offered to provide a member of our team to fulfill this new role, and the Chief of the Defence Staff has accepted our offer. Together, we will carry out this project in two stages. First, we will identify the most appropriate and effective means by which the military could meet the information needs of families following the death or serious injury of a military loved one. Second, after analyzing the results, we will develop a strategy to carry out those measures.

The death or serious injury of a Canadian Armed Forces member is always a difficult event, and none is more profoundly affected by it than the member’s family. These families need and deserve information, support and assistance to help them come to terms with the loss or injury. My Office is committed to helping identify these needs in the near future; in the meantime, I encourage military family members to contact my Office if they have any questions or concerns about the Board of Inquiry process or about the treatment they receive from the Department or the Canadian Armed Forces. We are ready to help.

Gary Walbourne

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