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Ombudsman slams military’s treatment of injured reservists, rangers

Organization failing to address long-standing gaps for Canada’s part-time soldiers
Gregory Lick, the National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces Ombudsman, speaks during a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Canadian Armed Forces ombudsman Gregory Lick is criticizing the military’s treatment of ill and injured reservists and Canadian Rangers, saying the organization is failing to address long-standing gaps for Canada’s part-time soldiers.

The gaps were first identified by the ombudsman’s office during four separate investigations between 2015 and 2017, at which time the military promised to take action by implementing nine watchdog recommendations.

But in a new report released late Monday, the ombudsman’s office found that none of the nine recommendations have been fully implemented over the past five-plus years.

“Certainly, I’m disappointed that they haven’t been able to action or make progress on all the recommendations,” Lick said in an interview.

“There are nine recommendations out of the four reports, and none have been fully implemented.”

The report comes as the military is struggling with a personnel crisis, with about 10,000 vacancies across the Armed Forces — which represents about one position in 10. The shortage is particularly acute in the middle ranks.

The situation has become so dire that the chief of the defence staff, Gen. Wayne Eyre, issued a sweeping reconstitution order earlier this month making the recruitment and retention of personnel the military’s top priority.

Addressing the problems identified by his office would assist with those efforts, Lick said, particularly in the retention of experienced reservists and rangers who may otherwise hang up their uniforms because of untreated illnesses and injuries.

“If they wish to make movement and make great progress — which they need to — on reconstituting the Forces, the reserve force being a large elements of that, they have to get the foundation correct,” Lick said.

“Making progress on our recommendations, that will make a greater, better foundation for moving ahead on reconstitution.”

The ombudsman’s previous studies identified gaps in reporting, treating and compensating illnesses and injuries suffered by reservists and rangers, who operate primarily in the North on a part-time basis, as a result of their military duties.

Those include a lack of followup after reservists are deployed on military tasks, excessive red tape in asking for assistance and compensation and issues with the military not communicating what help is available.

The update comes as many reservists are being asked to step up on missions both at home and abroad. That includes the recent deployment of about 700 part-time military personnel to Atlantic Canada after Hurricane Fiona.

Senior commanders spoke to the House of Commons defence committee last week about the impact the current shortage of full-time and part-time Armed Forces members is having on the military writ large.

“We’re making difficult choices about what we can do for operations,” said Royal Canadian Air Force commander Lt.-Gen. Eric Kenny.

“We are consciously looking at what capabilities we’re privileging over others to make sure that we are not overstretching our members.”

—Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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