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We Need To Ask the Right Questions About Racism in the Armed Forces

Last week, while everyone was getting separation-burnout and Crimea-river syndrome from the relentless coverage of little else, a very important press conference was held in Halifax. A group of veterans gathered to rally around two of their own and make a call for action. Too bad we missed it.

The issue? Racism in the Canadian Forces. Not 'does it exist'; instead, 'What impact does it have on the health of those who serve?'

There was no assumption that racism exists in the Forces. After all, it exists in our general population. Besides, two for the veterans present - Rubin Coward and Wally Fowler have seen it up close and personal. They know it exists; they even have the proof. Both have been fighting for years to get Fowler disability benefits. See, Wally has PTSD as a result of years of being a victim of racism; years of his family being targeted; years of asking for help fighting bigotry and being denied. Fowler and Coward have amassed a huge volume of documents showing that systemic racism IS present in the Forces, so no need to ask the question any more. Now, they -- and others -- want to know what is being done to help the victims like Wally.

Fowler, with Coward as advocate and champion, has been reaching out for years, trying to get help from the various Ombudsman, bureaucrats, commanders, politicians, and government bodies who are charged with investigating racism. There has been a lot of buck-passing but not much action. Much of Fowlers evidence had to be obtained by ATIP. And what might just be most telling is the fact that, despite requests for MPs to attend an open discussion on the issue, none did. For the first time in months -- years -- high profile vets called a media event and not one politician turned up. Usually, it's a job to prevent politicians from hijacking the event for their own purposes. But apparently no one wanted to touch this.

Except one guy. A veteran. A former soldier who fought the government and won. He met Wally, heard his story, and instantly decided that he would show his support and lend his name to the cause, in the hopes of bringing bigger attention.

His name is Cpl Dennis Manuge...

... I am a disabled veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces. I am the former Representative Plaintiff from Manuge Vs Her Majesty The Queen; On behalf of approximately eight thousand other disabled veterans, I represented and fought-tooth and-nail with the Government Of Canada for over a decade: 6 years through Federal Court, The Federal Court of Appeals, The Supreme Court of Canada, and back to Federal court, over the illegal clawback of our disability pensions. My tenacity and passion combined with stellar legal representation from McInnes Cooper simply overwhelmed the Government of Canada.

Why did I do it? Because I was angry. I was angry at being abandoned and betrayed by my country when I needed you the most. The entire chain of command failed the troops miserably. And while they wrote books and spoke on the circuit, ran for office, commented on the evening news, or maybe even landed a nice consultant gig or patronage appointment, a friggin' corporal with some balls, stood up, stood fast, and altered history. We changed the law in Canada and restored some self-respect and dignity back into the broken spirits, broken minds, and broken bodies of Canada's Warrior sons and daughters.

I spoke at a recent Town Hall to address the concerns of Veterans on a multitude of issues. I was stunned, appalled, and sickened when I heard my fellow veteran, Rubin Coward's, presentation on the ongoing and significant difficulties minorities continue to experience in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Rubin shared that he had personally assisted multiple CF members in this regard; he then indicated that the case of Wally Fowler is perhaps one of the worst he has witnessed to date.

Remember that word angry? I'm getting there again.

Wally and his entire family were subjected to Racial Discrimination at three different bases in Canada, CFB Borden, Ontario; CFB Esquimalt, British Columbia; and CFB Trenton, Ontario. Furthermore, this is supported by no less than seven Senior Military Officers as well as former Esquimalt -Juan de Fuca MP, Dr. Keith Martin. It is also supported by military psychiatrist Colonel D.R. Boddam in his report diagnosing Wally with "Major Depressive Disorder, PTSD and Racial Abuse in accordance with the DSM IV."

Rubin and Wally have attempted to have these concerns addressed all the way up the chain of command, but to no avail. They have implored the Prime Minister, Peter MacKay as Minister of National Defence, The Standing Senate Committee and a list of Politicians across this country and virtually no one is willing to listen -- so the question then becomes why?

Rubin, Wally and I feel they have uncovered that answer.

With the help of the Access to Information Act, they have uncovered, among other things, that there were Systemic and Institutional problems identified early on by one CF Ombudsman. Then the investigation just sort of died under a different CF Ombudsman, due to what looks like complicity between the Minister of National Defence's Office and the CF Ombudsman's office to hide the truth and/or refrain from acting at all on issues of racial discrimination.

The CF Ombudsman of the day, Andre Marin, investigated Wally's case, and responded to the Minister:

"We have identified two Systemic issues that could be pursued further, the first being: What is the CF's role and responsibility with respect to assisting with the integration of members and their dependents, specifically those that are visible minorities, into the community? The second issue concerns the CF's policy with respect to independent or higher level review of harassment complaints and more specifically of [racism]. At present the existing policies are either [silent] or lacking in these two issues..."

Yet not further action was taken.

I'd like to be clear on this issue. As a fellow Canadian disabled veteran with a family, I know too well the heartache and suffering my family endured while our needless battle with the Government of Canada unfolded. Equally important, however, I know the type of lasting damage this can have. Racial discrimination, like all forms of discrimination, has a direct and negative impact on both physical health and mental health.

So I'm angry, saddened, and sickened that my brother veteran, Wally Fowler, had the courage and the strength to bring an issue as important as Racial Discrimination to the attention of everyone he needed to get help and support, yet he was hung out to dry: why??? Is it because he is black?

I don't care if your black brown yellow, pink, man, woman, hetero or homosexual. I cannot stand idly by and watch while CF members and fellow vets suffer. In this day and age anyone who puts up with bigotry is just a bigot themselves. Anyone who is a bigot, in or out of uniform, deserves to have all the light shone on them and all resources available used to end and nullify their ability to do harm to others. Period!

I ask that the government of Canada finally do the right thing for Mr. Fowler, and for all visible minorities who have experienced racism in the past and who continue to experience racism. Please hold a public inquiry into the original systemic issues that the CF's 1st Ombudsman identified many years ago and, in so doing, look at how and why the system absolutely failed to protect Wally Fowler and His family.

Visible minorities serve our country too, and now it's time for our country to serve them with justice, dignity and respect.

Cpl Dennis Manuge

You can read more about Pte Fowler's case here. - JRM

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