Message from the Ombudsman (May 16, 2012)

The Year in Review: 2011-2012

Over the past year, the Office of the Ombudsman delivered real and positive results for Canada’s Defence community.

Individual Cases

Throughout 2011-2012, the office received 1,412 new cases from Canadian Forces members, civilian employees, military family members and other constituents. In total, Ombudsman investigators and intake officers handled 1,913 cases in 2011-2012, including new cases (1,412), cases left over from previous years (386), and cases re-opened (115).

Broader Investigations

As of the end of March 2012, the Office of the Ombudsman initiated and continued to work on a number of broader investigations.

Operational Stress Injuries Follow-up Review

In December 2008, the Ombudsman’s office published a second follow-up report, entitled A Long Road to Recovery: Battling Operational Stress Injuries, which was intended to track the progress made by the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces in implementing the office’s 2002 recommendations related to post-traumatic stress disorder and other operational stress injuries. The report also highlighted some new and evolving issues and problems.

While recognizing that progress had been made by the Canadian Forces to identify and treat military personnel suffering from mental health injuries, the Ombudsman was concerned about the significant impact that the Afghanistan mission was having – and may have well into the future – on Canadian Forces members and their families.

Accordingly, in early 2011, the Ombudsman launched a third follow-up investigation into the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder and other operational stress injuries in the Canadian Forces. The investigation will determine the status of the nine recommendations contained in the 2008 report and the seven recommendations included in the companion report entitled The State of Mental Health Services at CFB Petawawa. The investigation will also consider new and evolving concerns, particularly related to base- and wing-level care.

Following the launch of this follow-up investigation, Ombudsman staff conducted more than 200 interviews with over 425 individuals, including senior leaders at National Defence Headquarters and within the Canadian Forces Health Services Group. The investigative team also travelled to Canadian Forces Bases Edmonton, Gagetown, Halifax, Petawawa, Shilo, Trenton, Valcartier and Wainwright in order to meet with medical staff and other caregivers, Integrated Personnel Support Centre staff, Operational Stress Injury Social Support program staff, Military Family Resource Centre staff, unit leadership, Canadian Forces personnel, military families and others. In addition, during their collection of data, the investigative team accumulated and assessed more than 650 documents.

The investigation will be completed and released in the summer of 2012.

Follow-up Review of the Treatment of Injured Reservists

In the spring of 2008, the Ombudsman’s office released a special report entitled Reserved Care: An Investigation into the Treatment of Injured Reservists. Following an extensive investigation, the Ombudsman found that Reservists who were injured in the course of their duties in Canada faced a host of challenges in accessing timely, adequate and ongoing medical care that Regular Force members did not.

The investigation identified a number of major areas of concern, including significant inequities in the provision of health care to injured Reservists. Overall, the availability and quality of medical care provided to Reservists was found to be largely unpredictable, with some Reservists receiving no medical care at all from the Canadian Forces.

The office also identified significant inequities in the benefits provided to Reservists. For example, certain Reservists were entitled to only 40 percent of the amount of accidental dismemberment benefits available to Regular Force members. Another matter of concern involved inconsistent standards in the areas of periodic health assessments, immunizations, the treatment of injuries resulting from fitness training, and the handling and storage of medical records.

In releasing Reserved Care, the Ombudsman made 12 recommendations to the Minister of National Defence that were intended to ensure all members of Canada’s Reserve Force were treated fairly.

In early 2012, the Ombudsman’s office began a follow-up investigation to assess the status of these recommendations and determine if the situation had improved for Canada’s injured Reservists. This investigation is expected to be finalized and published in the summer of 2012.

Reviewing the Systemic Concerns of Canada’s Military Families

The office’s most visible intervention in recent years has been related to the care and treatment of military families who have lost a Canadian Forces loved one while the member was serving their country. The focus on this issue, however, shed light on a number of other concerns that affect the lives of Canada’s military families, including operational tempo, operational stress injuries, housing, medical concerns, and social and community support.

Since the Ombudsman’s office was established in 1998, more than 1,000 military families have come forward with complaints and concerns (more than 100 over the past 12 months) regarding these and other issues. At the same time, through the Ombudsman’s extensive outreach efforts, the office has also encountered and documented dozens of similar complaints from military families across the country.

This is why, in the spring of 2012, the office launched a systemic review into the care and treatment of, and in many respects, the unique reality and burden facing Canada’s military families.

Canada’s military families are national entities and have a key role to play in maintaining the operational effectiveness of the Canadian Forces. They also sacrifice a great deal for their Canadian Forces loved ones. It is, in many respects, a unique and very challenging life for Canada’s military families resulting in frequent moves (often between provinces and away from other loved ones) and periods of uncertainty; prolonged absences of military spouses and parents; significant anxiety as a result of operational deployments; and extra care for Canadian Forces loved ones who may be injured in the course of their military service.

Reflective of broader Canadian society, today’s military families have also evolved quite significantly over the past couple of decades to include many more working spouses, single parents, gay couples and other family dynamics. Military culture, policies and practices have not always kept pace with these changes, causing difficulties for many military families.

The Minister of National Defence and the Department and the Canadian Forces have put in place a number of initiatives over the past few years aimed at providing more support for Canada’s military families. However, even with these initiatives, the Ombudsman’s office has found a number of significant and systemic concerns and complaints that have not been resolved or not resolved uniformly or consistently across the country. At the same time, it is important to recognize that some of the most common and significant concerns are outside of the control and jurisdiction of National Defence and the federal government.

In Canada, the provinces are generally responsible for health care, employment and child care. As a result, some military families – who are being moved throughout Canada by the Canadian Forces – are falling through federal-provincial cracks and are suffering. The office is aware of cases where Canadian Forces members reconsider their military careers in response to the challenging realities faced by their families.

For example, when Canadian Forces members and their families are posted between provinces, many spouses have a great deal of difficulty accessing timely health care and child care. While many Canadians have difficulties finding a family doctor and appropriate care for their children, the problem is even more pronounced for military families who may be moved by the Canadian Forces a dozen or more times over the course of a military career. According to a Canadian Forces Health Services article in the “Lookout” newspaper (January 3, 2012), Canadian Forces families move three times more often than civilian families and are four times less likely to have a family physician. In a country where comprehensive health care coverage is publicly funded, the mobility inherent to the military lifestyle prevents many Canadian military families from accessing primary health care resources and services.

Mobility also poses a problem for military spouses seeking employment. So too does the fact that many provinces do not recognize the credentials or expertise of certain military spouses (e.g., teachers, nurses, etc.) when they are forced to move between provinces.

As part of the office’s ongoing review, the mobility policy and procedures of the Canadian Forces will be studied to determine, in particular, if there are any ways from a policy perspective to ease some of the strain on Canada’s military families.

The office is also interested in working with provincial ombudsmen from across the country in order to look at best practices and see if some collective recommendations can be put in place to improve the quality of life of Canada’s military families. For example, in 2007 and 2008, a number of provinces eliminated the waiting period for health insurance coverage for the dependents of Canadian Forces personnel being posted to those provinces. The office will be looking to foster this type of cooperation in health care and other areas across the country.

As part of the review, the office will also be talking to military families and looking at the care and treatment they have received throughout their experience with the Canadian Forces – from the time their loved ones joined the military, to the initial and ongoing training periods, to the various postings, to the operational deployments, and to when they decide to leave the Defence community.

At the same time, the office will be looking at whether the Canadian Forces have the appropriate policies, programs and resources in place to properly care for Canada’s military families.

It is expected that this review will be completed and published in fiscal year 2012-2013.


As part of the office’s ongoing outreach initiative aimed at enhancing the overall awareness and understanding of the Ombudsman’s role and mandate within the Defence community, the Ombudsman and his staff visited a number of military installations across the country, engaged constituents at military and departmental events, and reached out broadly to military and civilian leaders, stakeholders and like-minded organizations. These visits also provided the Ombudsman and his staff with a better understanding of the issues and challenges facing members of the Defence community.

Visits to Military Installations

The Ombudsman’s office is committed to connecting directly with constituents where they live and work. In this vein, the Ombudsman and his staff travel regularly to Canadian Forces bases and wings where they meet with senior leaders, non-commissioned members of all ranks and occupations, family members, health care providers, chaplains, social workers and civilian employees. These sessions are meant to provide information on the office’s services, to discuss issues of importance and to receive and document complaints. In 2011-2012, the Ombudsman and his staff travelled to a number of Canadian Forces bases, including:

  • Greenwood (Nova Scotia) on March 26 to 30, 2012, interacting with 345 constituents and receiving 16 individual complaints;
  • Bagotville (Quebec) on January 30 to February 3, 2012, meeting more than 420 constituents and receiving 23 individual complaints;
  • Trenton (Ontario) on November 28 to December 2, 2011, engaging nearly 300 constituents and receiving 20 individual complaints;
  • Petawawa (Ontario) on September 19 to 23, 2011, meeting with 750 constituents and receiving 35 individual complaints;
  • Edmonton (Alberta) on June 13 to 17, 2011, engaging 570 constituents and receiving 24 individual complaints; and 
  • Geilenkirchen (Germany) on April 11 and 12, 2011, meeting with Canadian Forces members of all ranks and occupations, civilian employees, military family members, and support staff (including Military Family Resource Centre staff) and receiving one individual complaint.

Interacting with Constituents at Departmental Events

Over the course of 2011-2012, the Ombudsman’s office participated in several outreach events in the National Capital Region, meeting with constituents and increasing the organization’s visibility. Office staff took part in the following functions:

  • International Women’s Day (March 8, 2012), meeting with 160 constituents;
  • National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman Awareness Campaign (January 17, 2012, October 25 and 27, 2011), meeting with over 500 people;
  • International Day for Persons with Disabilities (December 2, 2011), meeting with more than 40 constituents;
  • International Conflict Resolution Day (October 20, 2011), meeting with 50 people;
  • Islamic History Month (October 12, 2011), meeting with 30 constituents;
  • Aboriginal Awareness Week (May 27, 2011), meeting with 25 people;
  • Asian Heritage Month (May 12, 2011), meeting with 60 constituents; and
  • Employee Assistance Program Awareness Week (May 9, 2011), meeting with 100 constituents.

In order to ensure that newly hired departmental employees are acquainted with the services provided by the Ombudsman’s office, the outreach team also participates at monthly orientation sessions for new civilian members of the Defence community.

International Outreach

International outreach provides the Ombudsman’s office with the opportunity to help advance issues of fairness and human rights for armed forces personnel – an area in which Canada is widely recognized as a world leader.

In September and November of 2011, the office hosted a delegation of South African officials in order to provide advice and expertise in establishing their own ombudsman’s office for their armed forces personnel.

The Ombudsman also participated in the Third International Conference of Ombudsman Institutions for the Armed Forces in Belgrade, Serbia, in April 2011. At the 2010 conference in Vienna, the Ombudsman was asked, and subsequently agreed, to co-host this international gathering in Canada. This prestigious conference will be held in Ottawa, Ontario, in September 2012, marking the first time the conference will be held in North America. The office expects participation from an estimated 50 countries for the 2012 conference, with delegates from Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas.

The Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces is one of the world’s leading institutions in the areas of security sector reform and governance, and it co-chairs this annual conference, which began in Germany in 2009. The purpose of the conference is to facilitate the exchange of best practices and lessons learned related to the protection and promotion of the welfare and rights of armed forces personnel amongst military ombudsman institutions from around the world. More information on this forum is available at

Corporate Initiatives

In 2010-2011, the Ombudsman’s office undertook a thorough review of its operations with the aim of improving its efficiency and effectiveness. This initiative allowed the office to position itself as an innovative, nimble and constituent-focused service provider and, ultimately, met the Government of Canada’s broader initiative to reduce spending and eliminate the federal deficit.

Much of the work undertaken to sharpen the office’s focus and deliver on its core mission is underway or has been completed. Resources have been reallocated to support operational priorities and business practices have been reviewed to enable the office to develop operational service standards and implement a portfolio management concept for investigative staff.

As part of the restructuring and transition within the office, the Ombudsman redirected the strategic outreach function to the Communications unit. This will enable the office to better deliver outreach services to targeted constituents and craft appropriate messages and outreach activities for maximum impact. Also, the office will be looking to build on its self-evaluation capacity in order to assess its progress both internally and with constituents and to establish more effective ways to communicate with constituents through the use of social media.

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