Message from the Ombudsman (May 18, 2012)

Statement from the Ombudsman for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces

As I travel back from an outreach visit to Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake, I would like to say to our many constituents that I welcome the workplace assessment that has been initiated by the Minister of National Defence.

Independent review is a foundational principle of ombudsmanry and I am confident that this assessment will show that our actions have always been targeted at strengthening our ability to serve Canada’s Defence community.

Indeed, my number one priority – our number one priority – is always to provide the best possible service to the men and women of the Canadian Forces, civilian employees of National Defence and military families.

I am very proud of the passionate and professional people who work hard for me and for the members of Canada’s Defence community.

Over the past year, our operations group has handled more than 1,900 individual cases and complaints.

We are also now completing a follow-up systemic investigation regarding the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder and other operational stress injuries in the Canadian Forces.

We have launched a systemic review into the care and treatment of, and in many respects, the unique reality and burden facing Canada’s military families.

We are conducting a follow-up investigation to assess the status of the recommendations that were made when we published our 2008 special report on the care available to injured Reservists.

We continue to push for a resolution for Canadian Forces members who have been treated unfairly in the redress of grievance process.

Along with my staff, I have also conducted many outreach visits to military bases and wings across the country in order to enhance the overall awareness and understanding of our role and mandate within the Defence community and to address complaints from our constituents where they live and work.

So our priority is – and always has been – on meeting the needs of the men and women in Canada’s Defence community.

I want to take the opportunity to provide some additional context to the stories that have appeared in a few papers.

I was appointed Ombudsman in 2009 – a couple of years after the organization had conducted a workplace assessment. Following this assessment, it was clear that changes were required – capacity and skill sets needed to be improved and the organizational culture needed to change.

I would like to recognize the work done by my predecessors in starting some of the changes that were needed.

For my part, I – along with my senior management committee – focused on restructuring the office to increase its efficiency and effectiveness, creating training programs for our staff, putting in place service standards, establishing performance management and measurement systems and, most importantly, eliminating almost entirely the long-standing backlog of complaints.

While we have no doubt made some mistakes in our restructuring, all of these measures were intended to improve the ability of our office to fulfill our mandate – namely, to help address the concerns and complaints of the members of Canada’s Defence community who sacrifice so much for our country.

Change is not always uniformly welcomed within an organization and we always understood that, unfortunately, some employees would be unhappy and choose to leave. Others may not have the capacity to learn, change and develop as the organization needs them to. However, as the head of this dedicated office, I had no choice but to make the changes that would allow us to serve our constituents more effectively – we owe it to them.

As the head of this organization, I also owe it to Canadian taxpayers to use the resources I have in the most prudent and judicious manner. And I can assure Canadians that I have upheld this responsibility.

Our travel to Geneva was absolutely essential to ensure that Canada is prepared to co-host the Fourth International Conference of Ombudsman Institutions for the Armed Forces in Ottawa in September, a prestigious and important conference for military Ombudsmen from around the world.

I would like to assure Canadians that I brought with me only those individuals responsible for organizing the conference. Expenses were kept to an absolute minimum and all Treasury Board and National Defence guidelines for travel were followed for this meeting – just as we have always followed all of the rules in our outreach visits to Petawawa, Gagetown, Valcartier, Bagotville, Greenwood, Trenton and many other bases and wings.

In closing, I would like to say to our constituents that I am proud to be the Ombudsman for Canada’s Defence community. After having served in the military for more than 36 years, I am honoured to have the opportunity to help resolve the problems of our men and women in uniform, our civilian employees and our military families. I will continue to work hard to fulfill our mandate: To bring positive change to the Defence community because we care about the people we serve.

Pierre Daigle

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